Business leaders have welcomed the Government’s Chequers deal on Brexit, heralding it as the most positive political development in two years.
No 10 announced late on Friday night following a marathon day of discussions that the Cabinet had come to a ‘collective’ agreement on the UK’s future relationship with the EU.
It included a plan for a free trade area for goods travelling within the EU and a ‘common rulebook’, as well as a ‘combined customs territory’ that would allow frictionless trade.
Brexit: The Cabinet has come to a ‘collective’ agreement but we need to see the EU’s reaction
The deal has been widely interpreted as a soft approach to Brexit which appears to have united fractious camps within the Cabinet, at least for now.
Barclays UK chairman Sir Ian Cheshire said: ‘It’s a great step forward – much needed. It is really good that we have at least got the Cabinet aligned and that there is an agreement, or at least an outline. The sooner we can get on with negotiations the better.’
But he warned: ‘We’ve now got to see the EU’s reaction and everyone has got to stay disciplined and keep to the collective responsibility or else we just carry on going around in circles.’
He said he was ‘nervous’ until there was more clarity on the deal for services, which are not a part of the Government single market proposal. ‘I don’t think there is going to be a sigh of relief just yet.’
Lord Rose, chairman of Ocado, said: ‘I think it’s positive and I think it’s pragmatic. Well done to the Prime Minister for getting it this far. This is the most positive and the most pragmatic thing to come out of the Government for the past 24 months. Bravo, I say.’
Chequers deal: It includes a plan for a free trade area for goods travelling within the EU
Rose, who was chairman of the Britain Stronger In Europe campaign, said: ‘Even Brexiteers will get out of this proposal what they asked for – control of our own destiny, but a pragmatic recognition that we also have a very big trading partner and that we do need to have frictionless trade between ourselves and Europe.
The problem is that the devil will always be in the detail and another is over how long can the ideologue behave before they start misbehaving again. But any sensible minded person who cares about the prosperity and the prospects for this country can’t argue with this.’
Bronek Masojada, chief executive of insurance group Hiscox, said he was pleased the Government had agreed on a position, but that the deal would not affect insurers’ plans to set up EU subsidiaries to cater to EU-based clients. ‘We have been planning for no-deal on services. Our subsidiary will be up and running on January 1, 2019,’ he said.
‘Positive’: Ocado chairman Lord Rose
But there was still broad relief from the wider business community, despite an increasingly fractious relationship between politicians in recent weeks. Foreign secretary Boris Johnson was reported to have dismissed industry concerns over Brexit last month with the phrase ‘f*** business’.
Tory peer Lord Livingston, the chairman of Dixons Carphone and former BT chief executive, described the agreement as a ‘step forward in terms of recognising the real needs of the economy – not just business but everyone. I think there will be further bumps in the road but the chances of a really disastrous outcome have reduced’.
He said the Prime Minister had previously been trapped by those who failed to understand ‘the EU negotiating strength and unity’ and ‘realism is now taking root.’
‘The sooner, the better’: Barclays UK chairman Sir Ian Cheshire wants negotiations to begin
Stephen Martin, director general of the Institute of Directors, called the proposal ‘sensible’, while Confederation of British Industry director general Carolyn Fairbairn described it as a ‘genuine confidence boost’ for business.
Aviva chief executive Mark Wilson said: ‘Business craves certainty and the Government’s progress and leadership this week is an important step in the right direction.’ Julian Granville, the boss of yummy-mummy retailer Boden, said: ‘I think it’s very good news that we are heading towards a soft Brexit.’
Billionaire investor Jim Mellon, who has donated £100,000 to Brexit and supported Arron Banks and Nigel Farage, said: ‘This deal is a welcome relief and as an advocate of a soft Brexit I am happy. Well done Mrs May. I hope the EU agrees.’
Another Brexiteer, Gerard Lyons, formerly Boris Johnson’s economic adviser when he was the Mayor of London, said: ‘It’s not the best outcome. It starts to tie our hands on future domestic policy and our future trading relationships. We should have taken more of a position of strength, and gone for a clean break outside the single market.’
Additional reporting by Harriet Dennys, Alex Hawkes and William Turvill