Throughout all stages of the Brexit journey Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce has remained neutral and has striven to inform our members with impartial coverage of the process. Moving as we are into the third stage of our campaign work, following the periods pre-referendum, post referendum and now the after the triggering of Article 50, GMCC seeks to continue the work in this area and has produced nine key position statements around our member's views to be considered going forward during the negotiations. These positions stem from work done with our Policy and Campaign Committee, the elected members of the GMCC Assembly, and wider work with members from all the ten boroughs of Greater Manchester through our Action for Business events.
Some historically-expressed desires of business, such as remaining as participants of the Single Market, have a direct conflict with the government's stated aim of removing the UK from the single market and its requirement for the free movement of workers. And it is only recently that discussions around Customs Union membership have begun to take place in the public domain, though these remain constrained by limited knowledge of the topic by many correspondents.
These initial position statements may well change over time but it is crucial that there is, in place, an initial starting point which clarifies core points which will form fundamental parts of the upcoming negotiations.
Throughout the negotiation period following the triggering of Article 50 we will continue to test further, both through Assembly, Action for Business forums and primary research our members' views on the key elements of this process as we build up to the constituent parts of what a final deal for the UK’s departure from the EU looks like.
We thank all members and others that have played a major part in this work so far and look forward to continuing this work in the future.
1. Transposition of European acquis into UK law The government intends to introduce a Great Repeal Bill at Queen's Speech 2017 with the intent of incorporating the body of European law (the "acquis") into UK legislation to allow a continuity of the legal and regulatory environment before and after the UK leaves the EU and for the repealing of the European Communities Act 1972.
GMCC supports the incorporation of all European law into British law to provide stability and continuity. It calls upon government to work with business between now and the UK's exit from the European Union to identify where amendments may be made to deliver a significant and swift benefit to UK business. The UK government should also identify the relevant institutions and standards that it wishes to follow after the UK's separation from the EU in advance.
2. The consulting of Metro Mayors The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, David Davis MP, confirmed to the House of Commons on 17 January 2017 that, after their first election on 4 May 2017, the government would convene a committee of directly-elected mayors to ensure that the views of these cities are heard clearly within the negotiating strategy.
GMCC supports the inclusion of the new metropolitan mayors of England within the government's engagement strategy for EU negotiations. The city regions deliver an increasing share of the UK's growth, economic activity and employment and will each have strong views about how those cities will want to engage with the EU and the wider world over the coming years.
3. Acquired Rights There are a large number of EU citizens living and working in the UK today, and a smaller, though large, number of UK citizens living and working in the rest of the EU. The current position of the UK government is that the rights of those EU citizens in the UK today to remain post-Brexit cannot be guaranteed until, and unless, the EU commits to offer an equal position for UK citizens in the other 27 EU member states.
This creates a great deal of uncertainty for both the individuals concerned and for their employers. Individuals may find it difficult to take long-term decisions such as moving home or placing their children into educational establishments without knowing whether they will have residential or employment rights guaranteed in the future. Employers do not know whether the staff they currently employ may be allowed to stay in the UK, or whether any EU citizens from the other member states that they employ in the future may be allowed to stay. Whilst international law will give a right to residency for EU citizens who have lived and worked here for five years or more, many will find themselves having to provide documentary evidence of this and then to undergo potentially lengthy administrative procedures to ensure their right to remain beyond the UK's exit from the EU.
GMCC calls on government to work swiftly with the EU when negotiations begin to realise not only a right to remain for all EU citizens resident here before 23 June 2016 but also for the reciprocal rights for UK citizens living and working in the EU27. The process for documentation for the above should be as simple as possible.
4. Temporary visit visas and wider migration policy Before the implementation of the Schengen treaty and the completion of the Single Market, UK citizens and those of the western European nations had visa-free travel arrangements and could temporarily cross borders for business and leisure purposes. In any negotiations with the EU as part of the Article 50 process the UK government should ensure that this ability remains in place after the UK's leaving of the European Union.
Businesses regularly complain at the large-scale administrative burden and expense of acquiring work permits for non-EU nationals to work in the UK. Not only should this system be reformed from its current state, but it should also be developed to ensure that, after the UK leaves the European Union, a system for work permits for all non-UK citizens, including EU nationals, is as light-touch and simple and inexpensive to administer as possible, within the terms of any new migration policy.
GMCC calls for a visa-free travel system to be negotiated with the European Union that covers both leisure and temporary business travel. It also calls for a simplified process for the acquisition of work permits for all non-UK citizens that is less bureaucratically onerous than the current system. In addition, GMCC does not want to see the imposition of an arbitrary cap for net migration, whether overall, or for specific sub-sectors. Instead, migration should be determined by economic need and access to work permits should be determined on individual merit.
5. International Students Non-UK students make an increasingly large contribution to the UK, both supporting, through the payment of significantly higher fees than UK students, the financial and educational health of the UK's universities (particularly at post-graduate and MBA level), but also the UK's current account through increasing our exports of services. As the world's second largest services exporter, the UK's tertiary education system is highly-regarded across the globe, and the benefits of this flow beyond the sector itself. International students not only contribute directly to this sector but support inbound tourism and spending from their families and, when returning to their home nation, or moving to third nations, take their familiarity with the UK, its systems and its culture with them, promoting future internationalisation links and helping to develop and grow trade patterns.
Research by ComRes, for Universities UK, conducted in September 2016, shows that only one-quarter of the UK population sees international students as migrants and 75% say they would like to see the same, or more, international students in the UK. Over nine out of ten people surveyed believe that international students should be able to both stay and work in the UK for a period of time after they have completed their studies and 71% would support a policy of increasing the number of international students at UK universities. Government policy is currently at odds with the wishes of the wider population and that of the business community. Greater Manchester is home to the largest student population in Europe and a large number of those students are from overseas, though universities have reported a drop in applications from overseas students since the recent reforms to migration policy.
GMCC calls for government to acknowledge the significant contribution that international students make to the UK economy generally and to its universities and business schools specifically, including the role of strengthening relations with countries whose trade with the UK will become increasingly important. GMCC also calls for the removal of international students from the UK's migration statistics and for the reversal of the recent policy decision that international students must leave the UK immediately after the conclusion of their studies.
6. Single Market Since 1992, the single market has provided for the free movement of workers, capital, goods and services (though the latter remains far from complete). The common rules and regulations of the single market are enforced by the European Court of Justice.
GMCC can only support the government’s position to remove the UK from the EU single market if continued unrestricted trade is prioritised over the exit itself, and that key features of the single market are replicated within the agreement for future co-operation within the EU. The government must publish an evidence-based report on the expected difficulty and timeframes for securing a UK-EU FTA, including an assessment of any interim arrangements that may be required, and also commit the UK to leave the single market only when appropriate arrangements are in place.
7. Customs Union The customs union provides for the free passage of goods between its members and imposes a common external tariff on goods entering the Union.
GMCC can only support the government's position to leave the EU's customs union if a customs co-operation agreement is in place at the point of exit, and with clear expectations that a full free-trade agreement can be delivered swiftly. Without these, the government should prioritise maintaining frictionless trade with the EU before seeking to leave the Customs Union and focussing on third-country trade agreements.
8. Continued Collaboration The UK has historically been a close collaborator both with the European Union and its member states, participating in a number of areas including security and global aid as well as in programmes such as Horizon 2020 (research and innovation) and Single European Skies. These programmes are, in the main, open to countries that are not members of the Union allowing ever-greater collaboration between a variety of countries in areas of mutual importance.
GMCC calls on the government to consider the UK's continued participation in each of the EU's key collaborative schemes and programmes on their own merit. Programmes where the UK and the EU's mutual interests are well served by our continued participation should not be ruled out because of any continued payments to the EU that are required for participation, and withdrawal should occur only after a clear assessment of the costs and benefits.
9. Overall negotiation process The Prime Minister made clear in her speech on 17 January 2017 that she expects the negotiations to be complete with the two-year limit of the Article 50 process, even if transitional arrangements extend beyond this date. The European Union has stated that it does not expect any future free trade agreement to form part of this period.
The Prime Minister also stated that "no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain". A "hard Brexit", i.e. all treaties and their obligations ceasing to apply and falling back on the pure WTO option is the default option if no deal is achieved.
Whilst GMCC understands the Prime Minister's position that "no deal … is better than a bad deal" as this is required to support a strong negotiation, it believes that either of these outcomes would rightly be judged a failure. There are substantial risks to businesses, citizens and the wider economy if the UK fails to secure a deal in the Article 50 negotiations. Therefore, the government must not rule out attempting to extend the negotiation period beyond two years or to pursue interim arrangements if required to establish a positive relationship between the UK and the EU at exit.