car manufacturing

EEF chair Dame Judith Hackitt set to criticise Theresa May's Brexit remarks

The woman at the helm of the organisation representing Britain’s manufacturers will tonight say the Prime Minister was unwise to state no deal on Brexit is preferable to a bad deal.

In remarks which spooked many in the engineering sector, Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May last month announced that the UK would be prepared to crash out of the EU and rely on World Trade Organisation rules if no acceptable exit deal is reached with the remaining 27 member states.

Sketching out in broad terms what she wanted the UK’s future outside the EU to look like, May said, “No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain”.

She went on to suggest the UK could slash corporate taxes to “attract the world’s best companies and biggest investors”.

Industry leaders duly warned jobs and investment would be put in peril, and now Dame Judith Hackitt, who chairs the influential manufacturers’ organisation the EEF, is preparing to lay down a fresh warning to the PM that without a transitional period of at least five years, business will be “left on a cliff edge”.

In a speech tonight, Dame Judith is expected to say: “The Prime Minister has spoken of walking away and that no deal is preferable to a bad deal, but such a situation would be really bad news for business with prolonged uncertainty.

“If the UK departs in haste we are likely to spend the next thirty years repenting, but if the Prime Minister chooses a well planned and executed, pragmatic approach, we can have a smooth and amicable divorce which keeps the economy ticking over in the interim period of the negotiation”.

She will also say industry needs access to the skills workers from Europe bring.

Former Labour chancellor Alistair Darling will be a guest speaker alongside Alastair Campbell, who was Tony Blair’s spin doctor, at the event in Mayfair.

Dame Judith is expected to tell the pair, and other guests, that the result of the referendum must be respected – but she believes it was also reflective of wider concerns about social inequality which business must address.

She is expected to urge CEOs to assume responsibility in addressing regional and social inequalities in the UK and emphasise the role companies have addressing resentment towards the growing pay divide between the boardroom and the shop floor.

The EEF has previously said six in 10 of its member companies were in favour of the UK remaining in the EU, and just 5 per cent supported leaving.

The organisation, which represents 20,000 companies, has described the vote to leave as “a disappointment” – but Dame Judith is now set to declare that the “new and as yet uncertain landscape” could be “a great opportunity”.

She will tell guests tonight: ”A new relationship with the European Union is a given. The decision to leave has been taken as a result of a democratic process and we must now seize this as an opportunity. Wishing it were different is in nobody’s best interests. We must make it work and minimise uncertainty for everyone, especially for business and industry who will be the driving forces behind creating a new and prosperous UK economy.”

Dame Judith is also expected to praise “positive moves” by the government - including the government’s announcements on Hinkley Point C, Heathrow Airport expansion and the HS2 rail project.

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