“POLITICS AT THE EXPENSE OF PROSPERITY” – A bad week for business

Happy Brexit Day everyone. Great isn’t it?

Posted by Paul Cherpeau

Chief Executive

Fri 29th, Mar

I attended the British Chambers of Commerce Annual Conference on Thursday at the QEII Conference Centre, ironically within the shadow of the Houses of Parliament. There, for the first time throughout the process, our Director-General Adam Marshall directly accused politicians of letting businesses down by focussing on politics at the expense of prosperity.

Even by the standards of post-2016 politics, the events of the past week have been truly bizarre and disturbing. Our political system may be putting the fun in dysfunctional for those viewing events through the lens of a soap opera but this is now serious stuff.

Today was supposed to be the day we left the European Union with a transition of free trade agreements, a bagful of opportunities and a brave new world within which to enter.

Now, we’re potentially two weeks away from leaving the European Union without a deal. Another cliff edge. Some may understandably feel so fatigued, jaded and apathetic by the whole process that this appears an acceptable outcome. However the economic and practical realities of this outcome are simply not acceptable as David Liddington stated at the Conference - the UK is not ready.

It is not my job to get embroiled in the intricacies of the political process, merely to state and articulate the prevailing views of business and where we can, to provide advice to enable them to mitigate for the impact of the impending outcome (whatever that may be). The provision of our Brexit risk register, health check and online hub for example, is there for all businesses to use. Still, it is virtually impossible to be prepared for every eventuality and the fact we are still copying and pasting that statement on 29th March 2019 is truly a dismal situation for businesses large and small.

The conference featured speeches from Liz Truss, Sir Keir Starmer and the afore-mentioned Liddington – generally speaking the grown-ups in the room. Yet despite their warm words, respect conveyed to businesses working through the current impasse and acknowledgement of the problems our politicians have caused and exacerbated, the entire situation remains - at the time of writing - a shambles on a grand scale.

We’re all sick of Brexit. It’s dominated the media, conversations, resources (in businesses and government) and completely grounded any possible forward momentum in resourcing and improving the UK’s provision of great people, infrastructure and trade opportunities. It has also fundamentally damaged our trust in politics as allies to business. 

Our hope is that there is a swift resolution to the impasse; that further cliff edges are avoided and a degree of stability is achieved. There are sufficient challenges – at a macro and micro level – for businesses to deal with amidst the ongoing distraction that Brexit continues to provide.

Chambers of Commerce provide a respected voice for business which have not only been centred on businesses for more than a century but also make the news headlines. It is time for government to act in the interests of business and not their own.

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