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.

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Business groups react to snap General Election announcement

UK business groups have expressed mixed reactions to Theresa May’s plans to hold a snap General Election on 8 June.

Some business leaders have welcomed the announcement, believing that a Conservative win could see the Prime Minister increase her majority and thus enter Brexit talks in a much stronger position.

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Terry Scuoler, chief executive of the manufacturing group EEF, commented: ‘We have significant negotiations to undertake with our partners in the rest of Europe and doing this with a fresh and stable mandate from the country can only provide greater certainty about the future direction of travel for policy.’

However, others have warned that the move could distract from Brexit negotiations and other issues of concern to businesses.

Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI Director General, said: ‘With a snap General Election now called, businesses will be looking to each political party to set out their plans to support economic stability and prosperity over the next Parliament in a way that is fair and sustainable for communities across the UK.

‘Distraction from the urgent priorities of seeking the best EU deal and improving UK productivity must be kept to a minimum.’

Meanwhile, Stephen Martin, director general of the Institute of Directors, commented: ‘Businesses are having to get used to being buffeted by the changing winds of politics at the moment, and will just have to endure yet another campaign.

‘While Brexit will inevitably dominate the campaign, there are also much wider questions that need to be addressed on the changing nature of business and work, automation and our ageing society,’ he added.

Following Theresa May’s surprise announcement, the pound soared to a six-month high of 2.37% to $1.2904 against the dollar.

However, the FTSE 100 share index fell by 180 points, or 2.5%, to 7,148, wiping almost £46 billion from the value of Britain’s biggest blue-chip companies.

Business groups react to triggering of Article 50

Business groups have expressed their opinions on the forthcoming Brexit negotiations and trade talks in the wake of Prime Minister Theresa May’s signing of the letter that triggers Article 50.

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A press release from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said: ‘Businesses across Britain are 100% committed to making a success of Brexit – and getting off to a good start in the negotiations will be vital in getting the best deal.’

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) suggested that UK businesses would like exit and trade talks to take place simultaneously. Adam Marshall, its Director General, commented: ‘Concluding exit and trade negotiations at the same time would moderate adjustment costs for UK businesses and enable trade between UK and EU firms to continue with less disruption.’

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) called for the government to secure ‘the easiest possible access to the single market’. Mike Cherry, National Chairman of the FSB, said: ‘Now that Article 50 has been triggered, it is time for the government to work towards a pro-business Brexit and give small firms some clarity on how leaving the EU will impact their businesses.

‘The government must push for a comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU based on ease and cost, and then support small firms to take advantage of new trade agreements with priority markets around the world.’

Meanwhile, Stephen Martin, Director General of the Institute of Directors (IoD), said: ‘Now the real work begins. Ministers must roll up their sleeves and focus on getting a good deal for Britain in the tough negotiations ahead. Success means listening to business on the vital priorities of maintaining tariff-free trade, minimising customs red tape and keeping the bureaucratic hurdles to bringing in necessary skills as low as possible.’

Prime Minister to trigger Article 50 on 29 March

Prime Minister Theresa May is set to trigger Article 50 – the legal process that will mark the beginning of two years of EU exit talks – on Wednesday 29 March, it has been announced.

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Downing Street stated that the Prime Minister intends to write a letter to Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, in which she will invoke Article 50. This letter is set to be delivered on the Wednesday.

The Prime Minister is expected to make a statement to the House of Commons after triggering Article 50, setting out her Brexit aims and priorities.

David Davis, Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, commented: ‘The government is clear in its aims: a deal that works for every nation and region of the UK and indeed for all of Europe – a new, positive partnership between the UK and our friends and allies in the EU.’

Meanwhile, a Downing Street spokesperson outlined the government’s desire for negotiations with the EU to begin ‘as soon as possible’, but also added that the government ‘fully appreciates it is right that the other 27 EU states have time to agree their position’.

Parliament passes Brexit Bill, permitting Prime Minister to trigger Article 50

Parliament has passed the Brexit Bill, allowing Prime Minister Theresa May to trigger Article 50 – the legal process that will mark the beginning of two years of EU exit talks.

Following the Parliamentary vote, the Bill is expected to receive Royal Assent, becoming law today.

The Prime Minister had previously expressed her intention to trigger Article 50 by the end of this month.

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David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, commented: ‘We are now on the threshold of the most important negotiation for our country in a generation.

‘We have a plan to build a global Britain and take advantage of its new place in the world by forging new trading links.’

The passing of the Bill came as the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) upgraded its UK GDP growth forecast for 2017 from 1.1% to 1.4%.

The upgrade has been attributed to an upward revision to UK GDP growth data during the last quarter of 2016, and stronger levels of consumer spending.

However, the BCC warned that rising inflation and ‘increased anxiety’ surrounding the Brexit negotiations could lead to ‘more muted growth’ in the long-term.

Adam Marshall, Director General of the BCC, said: ‘With several years of unspectacular growth ahead, coupled with inflationary pressures and the uncertain outcome of Brexit negotiations, it has never been more important to tackle the long-standing constraints that limit business confidence and growth here at home.’

Business groups respond to publication of Brexit White Paper

Business groups have responded to the government’s recent publication of its Brexit White Paper, which outlines its ambition to create a ‘new, positive and constructive’ partnership between the UK and the EU.

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The White Paper sets out the government’s 12 principles as announced by Prime Minister Theresa May in her Brexit speech last month, in which she pledged to ‘take control of our own laws’ and to ‘trade and do business all around the globe’.

Trade, devolution, immigration and protecting workers’ rights are amongst the 12 principles outlined in the White Paper, and these represent some of the areas up for negotiation with the EU.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) gave a broadly positive response to the publication of the paper. Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI Director General, stated: ‘We welcome the additional detail that has been given in this White Paper addressing some of our concerns.

‘It is vital that the business voice continues to be heard loud and clear in the UK and across Europe to make a success of Brexit and ensure our future prosperity.’

However, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) gave a decidedly less enthusiastic response. Frances O’Grady, its General Secretary, noted: ‘The White Paper tells us little we did not already know, and still leaves working people exposed to risks to their rights and jobs.

‘The government has set out its aspirations for trade agreements once we’ve left the EU. But there’s little explanation of how jobs and living standards will be kept safe while those deals are negotiated.’

Prime Minister outlines plans for new industrial strategy

Prime Minister Theresa May has outlined proposals for the government’s new industrial strategy, which is designed to provide a boost to the UK economy.

The ten-point plan, which is set out within a government green paper, aims to support those looking to start up in business and help new firms to grow.

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It also seeks to drive growth across the UK, encourage trade and inward investment, upgrade infrastructure and deliver affordable energy and clean growth, amongst other proposals.

Alongside the plan, the Prime Minister announced a new strategy for governing the country. She stated: ‘Underpinning this strategy is a new approach to government, not just stepping back and leaving business to get on with the job, but stepping up to a new, active role that backs business and ensures more people in all corners of the country share in the benefits of its success.’

Business groups have largely welcomed the Prime Minister’s plan. Carolyn Fairbairn, Director General of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), said: ‘A modern industrial strategy will be a landmark opportunity to build a successful, modern economy as the foundation for a prosperous, fairer and more inclusive society.’

Meanwhile, Adam Marshall, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), commented: ‘Business communities across the UK will be pleased to see that harnessing the potential of our cities, towns and counties lies at the heart of the government’s approach to [the] industrial strategy.’