Political parties are not offering an 'honest conversation' on Brexit, say business leaders

PUBLISHED: 11:38 18 November 2019 | UPDATED: 14:59 18 November 2019

Business leaders at the Conferation of British Industry (CBI) called on all parties to have an honest conversation about Brexit. Picture: CBI

Business leaders at the Conferation of British Industry (CBI) called on all parties to have an honest conversation about Brexit. Picture: CBI

CBI

Both Labour's and Conservative's promises to resolve Brexit quickly are misleading, according to the leaders of the UK's largest business lobbying group.

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As political leaders of the three main parties prepared to address the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) conference, CBI president and Tesco chair John Allan said that no party has offered concrete answers on Brexit.

Citing Brexit slogans from Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats, Allan said parties need to admit the UK will be negotiating with the EU "for years to come".

The CBI's director general, Carolyn Fairbairn, also said that British business wants neither the mass deregulation involved in a no-deal Brexit as threatened by the hard right, nor the "damaging" nationalisation agenda proposed by Labour.

The Conservative party has come under criticism for leaving the country open to another no-deal situation if it cannot secure a free trade deal with the EU within a promised 11 months.

Fairbairn said: "For some on the right, this preference for no deal is driven by a zeal for something beyond this - and that is the wholesale deregulation of the UK economy.

"But I want to be clear that this is not what British firms, large or small, want."

Saying that companies want to improve rather than diminish the quality of jobs through Brexit, she added: "When no deal becomes an ideology of its own, seemingly intent on ignoring the impact on jobs and livelihoods, then we have a problem."

But Labour's programme of public ownership is "at least as damaging", claimed Fairbairn.

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Labour has promised to nationalise or renationalise the country's water, trains, energy provision and broadband.

"Meanwhile, ideology from the left is at least as damaging," she said. "The Labour Party is proposing the biggest programme of renationalisation this country has ever seen, at great cost, with uncertain returns to the taxpayer, and with no clear route to better customer service."

Political leaders need to be honest about the years of EU negotiation ahead, said Allan, even the Liberal Democrats with their promise to stop Brexit.

"Currently no party has the answers," he said. "It's not as simple as 'getting Brexit done'. Or 'sorting Brexit in six months'. Or even 'stop Brexit'.

"Whatever happens in this election we'll be negotiating with the EU for years to come.

"Whether as a close friend or distant neighbour. So we need to have an honest conversation."

Fairbairn added that she suspects the Brexit uncertainty which has dogged business since 2016 will not be resolved by this time next year.

"These ideologies from both sides are causing great harm to our economy. Not just in the future but right now," she said.

"To see this, you only have to look the effect on business investment, which has fallen in five of the last six quarters. Confidence in Britain is faltering."

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