Insurance · 12 May 2017

Barrier-free EU trade confirmed as top Brexit priority for business

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Theresa May has been urged to make a stronger case for free trade

Most British business owners are more concerned about securing free EU trade than with restricting the free movement of people as the government’s Brexit negotiations gather pace, new research has proved.

When asked “What should the government focus on delivering when negotiating with the EU?” in a recent poll about Brexit priorities, 74 per cent of UK business leaders said “barrier-free EU trade”.

In contrast, just 6 per cent of respondent business owners believed the government should prioritise reducing immigration.

Outlining a major government failing, 87 per cent of business leaders thought policy makers needed to do much more to explain to the public how free trade directly benefits them. Almost two thirds of owners were worried that EU politicians would impose heavy tariffs on British businesses, as punishment for leaving.

The findings – based on a survey of more than 1,000 small business leaders, employing more than 100,000 staff – are published in a new report defending international trade from licencing and barcode not-for-profit, GS1 UK.

Commenting on the research, GS1 UK chief executive, Gary Lynch, said: “In the Brexit negotiations, business is clear.  Gaining access to the single market for British exports should take priority over rolling back the free movement of people.”

The findings also revealed that business owners still see Britain’s relationship with the EU as more important than that with US in terms of trade, with 76 per cent claiming the EU/UK deal was of greater value than the US/UK deal.

Lynch added: “Donald Trump’s inauguration speech proclaimed a new age of American protectionism, and he’s not alone. Marine Le Pen regularly attacked trade in the race for the French presidency.

“The decades-long consensus that free trade brings more jobs, higher wages, and lower prices, is changing. British business wants Theresa May to make the case for free trade – and stop protectionism spreading any further. And, if we have to pay for access to the EU, then so be it.”

Here’s why rising export figures are fuelling small business confidence

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Fred Heritage is deputy editor at Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and international relations from the University of Kent and an MA in international conflict from Kings College London. He previously worked as a reporter at Global Trade Review magazine.

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