Queen’s Speech outlines government’s legislative agenda

The Queen has delivered her annual speech at the state opening of Parliament, in which she outlined the government’s legislative agenda.

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This year’s speech differed to speeches given in previous years: it outlined the government’s legislative plans for the next two years, as opposed to one.

Earlier in the week, the government took the decision to cancel the 2018 Queen’s Speech in order to give MPs ‘extra time to deal with Brexit laws’.

Brexit proposals granted to the UK government include the power to make any future changes to UK laws, flexibility to accommodate trade agreements with the EU and other countries, control over the import and export of goods and the ability to end the free movement of EU citizens into the UK.

Other proposals outlined in the speech include a data protection bill designed to strengthen consumers’ rights, a national insurance contributions (NICs) bill aimed at ‘making the NIC system fairer’, and a financial guidance and claims bill, which establishes a new statutory body to co-ordinate the provision of debt, money and pension guidance.

Business groups have responded to the Queen’s Speech. Dr Adam Marshall, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said: ‘While Brexit isn’t the top immediate priority for many businesses, firms of every size and shape want to avoid turbulence and confusion during the Brexit transition. The government’s proposed bills on trade, customs and immigration must minimise adjustment costs and maximise opportunities.’

Meanwhile, Mike Cherry, National Chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), commented: ‘It’s good to see commitment to special support to help British businesses export to new markets around the world, which we look forward to engaging with the government on.’

Brexit deal must put jobs and prosperity first, says Chancellor

In his annual Mansion House speech, Chancellor Philip Hammond stated that any Brexit deal between the UK and the EU must put UK jobs and prosperity first.

Mr Hammond revealed that the government will seek a ‘bold and ambitious’ free trade agreement, that covers both goods and services. He also stated that mutually beneficial transitional arrangements will be made in order to avoid ‘disruption and dangerous cliff edges’.

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Agreeing ‘frictionless’ customs arrangements to facilitate trade across UK borders is also a priority during Brexit talks, Mr Hammond said.

Additionally, the Chancellor pledged to keep taxes ‘as low as possible’, stating that higher taxes will ‘slow growth, undermine competitiveness and cost jobs’.

Responding to the Chancellor’s speech, Mike Cherry, National Chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said: ‘In the negotiation itself, small businesses are looking to the government to secure an ambitious free trade agreement with the EU, while still allowing small firms to retain access to the skills and labour they need to grow and prosper.’

He continued: ‘While Brexit is the dominant issue of the day, our members are increasingly concerned about the weakness in the domestic economy. We therefore welcome the Chancellor’s commitment . . . to a low tax burden.’

Business groups call for ‘softer’ Brexit

Five business groups, including the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), have called for the government to secure continued access to the European single market until a final Brexit deal can be struck with the EU.

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The letter to Business Secretary Greg Clark calls for the government to ‘put the economy first’, and to ‘prioritise an early agreement on guarantees for EU citizens’ already residing in the UK.

A final agreement between the UK and the EU should guarantee certain economic principles, as outlined in the letter. These include securing tariff-free goods trade between the UK and the EU, establishing a flexible system for the movement of labour and skills between the UK and the EU, and protecting the benefits of free trade agreements currently delivered through the EU.

The letter, which is also signed by the Institute of Directors (IoD) and manufacturers’ organisation the EEF, comes as Brexit Secretary David Davis enters into formal Brexit negotiations with the EU.

Commenting on the negotiations, Mr Davis said: ‘I want to reiterate at the outset of these talks that the UK will remain a committed partner and ally of our friends across the continent. And while there is a long road ahead, our destination is clear – a deep and special partnership between the UK and the EU. A deal like no other in history.’

The UK is set to leave the EU by the end of March 2019.

UK economic growth ‘weakest in Europe’ during first quarter of 2017, data suggests

The UK economy experienced the weakest rate of growth in the EU during the first quarter of this year, figures published by European statistics agency Eurostat have suggested.

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Britain’s economy grew by just 0.2% in the three months to March – a significant fall from the rate of 0.7% recorded during the last quarter of 2016.

Experts believe that Brexit was partly to blame for the UK’s low economic growth rate, alongside rising prices due to lower sterling.

The data also revealed that growth for the EU as a whole totalled 0.6% in the first quarter of 2017. It found that the French economy grew by 0.4%, whilst German economic growth rose by 0.6%.

Economists expect Britain’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) rate to rise slightly in the coming months.

The UK economy is set to grow by 1.6% by the end of 2017, as predicted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). However, the OECD also expects UK economic growth to fall to 1% during 2018, as Brexit looms.

Business confidence has ‘fallen dramatically’ since General Election, IoD suggests

A snap poll carried out by the Institute of Directors (IoD) has found that, following the General Election and the subsequent Hung Parliament, business confidence in the UK economy has ‘fallen dramatically’.

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The poll of 700 IoD members revealed that businesses require ‘rapid agreement’ on transitional arrangements that arise from Brexit talks, alongside clarity as to whether EU nationals already residing in the UK will be permitted to remain in the country following Brexit.

Businesses also have ‘no desire’ for another election this year, the poll suggested.

The IoD has called for the government’s main priority to be striking a new trade deal with the EU.

It also warned that political uncertainty generated by the election could have ‘disastrous’ consequences for the UK economy.

Stephen Martin, Director General of the IoD, said: ‘The needs of business and the discussion of the economy were largely absent from the [General Election] campaign, but this crash in confidence shows how urgently that must change in the new government.’

Business groups react to General Election result

With the 2017 General Election resulting in a Hung Parliament, the UK’s leading business groups have been giving their reactions.

The Institute of Directors (IoD) has warned that businesses have now been ‘thrown into political limbo’.

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The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) is urging politicians to form a functioning government which offers security and places the economy at the heart of its agenda.

CBI Director-General Carolyn Fairbairn said:

‘For the next government, the need and opportunity to deliver an open, competitive and fair post-Brexit economy that works for everyone across all our nations and regions has never been more important.’

Meanwhile, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has called for a delay to the beginning of Brexit talks.

FSB National Chairman Mike Cherry said:

‘It is important to go into the Brexit talks from a position of strength, focused on getting the best deal possible for trade and access to workers and skills. Negotiations should be led by a government and a Prime Minister that will be in place for the duration, and so we call for a delay to the scheduled start of negotiations rather than a rush to begin in 11 days’ time. The need for a transition period now becomes even stronger, providing the time to get Brexit right.’

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) also emphasised the ongoing uncertainty for business communities, and echoed the FSB‘s call for a delay to Brexit negotiations.

Dr Adam Marshall, BCC Director General, said:

‘Whilst companies have for many months done their best to screen out political noise in order to focus on their own operations, this result will prove much harder for UK businesses to ignore.

‘No business would walk into a negotiation without clear objectives, an agreed starting position, and a strong negotiating team. It is hard to see how Brexit negotiations could begin without answers on these important questions.’

Business calls for support as UK voters head for the polls

Following weeks of heated political debate, the UK is heading for the polls to vote in Theresa May’s snap General Election.

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In the run-up to the election, business groups urged politicians not to allow Brexit to overshadow other important domestic issues, including boosting UK competitiveness, improving infrastructure and encouraging local growth.

Business leaders have called for the incoming government to provide an environment which supports and encourages small businesses, and a tax system that works for businesses of all sizes.

While aspects of foreign policy and social care have dominated many of the arguments, the main parties have set out their key plans on tax, infrastructure, immigration and investment.

Around 46.9 million people have registered to vote for the 650 seats at Westminster, with any one party requiring 326 seats in order to form a majority in the House of Commons.