YORKSHIRE business leaders want the UK’s negotiators to focus on securing strong trade links with the European Union after Brexit, according to a new study.
Around 62 per cent of the Yorkshire-based respondents to a nationwide survey believe that trade is the top priority for the Brexit talks, which is the highest percentage recorded in all the UK regions.
Nationwide, 58 per cent of the respondents said they wanted a Brexit deal that placed a priority on a stable trading environment. By contrast, just 12 per cent of Yorkshire’s bosses believe that the negotiators must be prioritising continued access to EU workers after Brexit.
However 16 per cent of the region’s respondents are concerned about the impact of sterling’s weakness on the UK economy. Around 38 per cent of Yorkshire business leaders feel the UK’s Brexit negotiating team is not ready to secure a good deal, the survey said.
Last week, Brexit Secretary David Davis called on European officials to show some “flexibility” in crucial talks over the rights of EU citizens and the UK’s “divorce bill” after the British government was accused of lacking clarity on its negotiating position.
However, his EU counterpart - the commission’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier - spoke of a “fundamental” disagreement between the two parties on the question of citizens’ rights, with the supremacy of European Courts flagged up as a key sticking point.
The Haltemprice and Howden MP maintained an optimistic tone in the wake of the latest round of meetings in Brussels, describing discussions as “robust” and claiming there was “a lot to be positive about”.
Anil Stocker, the chief executive and co-founder of MarketInvoice, the business finance company which conducted the survey, commented: “Business leaders are clearly focused on ensuring they are prepared to do business before worrying about people issues.
“Anecdotal feedback from this survey is that businesses in the UK are ‘getting on with it’, but are clearly unsettled, which doesn’t make for a healthy business environment.
“The good news is that businesses, finally, feel that their voices are being heard by Government but are not inspired with confidence with the negotiating efforts.
“Could the adoption of the business council at Downing Street make a difference?”
Across the UK, the majority (54 per cent) of businesses reported that their hiring plans this year have been largely unaffected by plans for Brexit.
Only two per cent are now reducing their exposure to EU-nationals in the coming months, while just six per cent are now reluctant to hire EU nationals altogether.
Mr Stocker added: “While hiring concerns are relatively stable for business, they need to be focused on managing their working capital needs in the second half of 2017.”
The study found that a third of respondents (34 per cent) expected to drop expansion plans, a further third (33 per cent) predicted that they will give up plans to launch new products and a fifth (20 per cent) will reduce marketing spending.
Mr Stocker added: “These are things that will impact the wider economy and could make for tough decisions for business leaders”.
The results are from a MarketInvoice survey of 3,874 UK businesses during June and July.