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'We've been here before': UK firms give Brexit deal cautious welcome

Tom Belger
Finance and policy reporter
The UK and the EU have reached a Brexit deal. Photo: Alastair Grant/AP

Business leaders in the UK have given the UK and EU’s new Brexit deal a cautious welcome, but several warned the “devil will be in the detail” shortly after the new agreement was published.

UK prime minister Boris Johnson and European commission president Jean-Claude Juncker revealed the breakthrough on Thursday morning.

European national leaders are expected to sign off the new agreement on Thursday, before it is put to a vote in the House of Commons on Saturday ahead of Britain’s planned exit on 31 October.

‘We’ve been here before’

Dr Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chamber of Commerce (BCC), warned Britain had “been here before” under former prime minister Theresa May, who reached a similar deal with the EU but saw it voted down repeatedly by MPs.

He said firms would recognise negotiators’ “huge efforts” but would “reserve judgement” until they saw the detail, particularly firms in Northern Ireland where complex trade rules could be implemented to avoid a hard border.

“Let’s not forget, we’ve been here before. There is still a long way to go before businesses can confidently plan for the future,” he said.

“For business, this deal may be the end of the beginning – but it is far from the beginning of the end of the Brexit process.”

READ MORE: Pound volatile as UK and EU reach new Brexit deal

‘Small businesses will be relieved’

Mike Cherry, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said: “After three years of uncertainty that has stalled planning, hampered investment and slowed growth, a last-minute Brexit deal now seems within reach.

“Many small businesses will be relieved that there now appears to be a credible pathway towards securing a deal that avoids a chaotic no-deal on 31 October and guarantees a transition period, which smaller businesses need to adapt to the UK’s future relationship with the EU.

"Of course the devil will be in the detail and we will now take time to examine the intricacies of the deal to make sure it works for all small businesses across the UK.”

‘MPs must keep no-deal damage in mind’

Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Photo: PA

Jonathan Geldart, director general of the Institute of Directors, called on MPs to “keep firmly in mind” the possible damage caused by a no-deal Brexit.

“If the immediate choice is between leaving the EU in an orderly versus a disorderly manner, politicians must be mindful of the longer-term consequences their actions may bring to bear.”

He also said business leaders would be pleased and feel “guarded relief at the breakthrough,” but echoed others in saying firms would now need to examine the detail.

READ MORE: The biggest issue at the heart of Boris Johnson's Brexit deal

Food firms ‘hope this means no-deal cannot happen’

Ian Wright, chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation, said UK manufacturers in the sector, which has highly integrated European supply chains and high levels of European labour, would “welcome” news of a deal.

He said: “They will hope that this means, definitively, that a no-deal exit on 31 October cannot happen. Our focus now switches to whether this deal can command the support of the UK parliament, and what the detail of the deal means for our members.

“Their objectives are securing frictionless trade and regulatory alignment with the EU, our largest market. They also must have access to the workers our industry needs.”

‘Disaster for working people’

Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), struck a far less positive note, echoing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in warning it could still undermine trade ties and workers’ rights despite avoiding a more damaging no-deal outcome.

She said: “This deal would be a disaster for working people. It would hammer the economy, cost jobs and sell workers’ rights down the river.

“Boris Johnson has negotiated an even worse deal than Theresa May. All MPs should vote against it.”