The UK made a momentous decision in June. Whether you agree or disagree with the UK leaving the European Union, there’s no getting away from the impact the decision will have on every business in the country.
Time will tell exactly what the world will look like post-Brexit. It could involve leaving the Single Market, which would change the trading relationship that exists between the UK and European Member States. It could also mean an end to the free movement of people to and from the UK – potentially impacting how businesses go about their recruitment of staff, and the pool of skilled workers they can draw from.
The likes of the CBI have already been vocal on Brexit. The High Court has also ruled that MPs must have a say before the Prime Minister can trigger Article 50 to start the formal negotiation process. But it would be a mistake for any business to think their views and priorities will be conveyed by someone else. The potential for change is huge, and businesses need to understand what Brexit means for them. Yes, that means the challenges if we leave the Single Market. But it also means identifying what could be one-off opportunities to help shape the trading environment, and the rules and regulations that influence how all industries make, market and sell their goods and services.
It might be a hard or soft Brexit, but the reality is that the UK will have to decide what European regulations (it currently adheres to) to keep, amend or do away with. And this represents an opportunity for business.
Take food as an example. More or less all of the regulations governing how food products are made, labelled, marketed and sold have come from Brussels. The Prime Minister has already said there’ll be a Great Repeal Bill announced in the next Queen’s Speech, which will form a significant part of her government’s future legislative programme. But what that means effectively is that, at least in the short-term, the UK will adopt en masse European regulation – and then subsequently decide what it will keep.
This is a game changer for business, with the potential to radically alter any company’s existing practices for good or ill. And that means every chief executive and managing director needs awareness of the changes that might happen to the regulations governing their business activities. It means talking to your MP and to those central to the decision-making process – the Government’s Brexit Department and the newly formed Brexit Select Committee amongst others – about what it is your business needs from the process.
Otherwise, the opportunity to keep rules that benefit you – or to campaign for the removal of those regulations that impinge on your ability to trade – will pass you by.
We know the Prime Minister, despite the ruling of the High Court, still expects to trigger Article 50 by March next year. And while Theresa May has to-date given little indication as to her negotiating position, expect more information in the coming weeks. At minimum, businesses need to be following that announcement. They also need to be engaging with it – communicating with MPs and government, and ensuring their professional bodies and trade associations are making their case.
Otherwise, it’s difficult to say what Brexit will mean for your business.
By Sam Blainey, senior political consultant, The Whitehouse Consultancy