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Brexit – business must carry on regardless

I know this may surprise a few folks, but I do actually enjoy the occasional trip eastwards across the country.

I spent a few hours in Holyrood last week as part of a Glasgow delegation discussing the impact of Brexit on the city economy. The main aim was to open up dialogue with the Scottish Government’s Brexit Minister, Mike Russell but we also took the opportunity to present to a meeting of MSPs with an interest in Glasgow, Brexit or the economy.

Back in October we joined the City Council and the Glasgow Economic Leadership Board in publishing a full report on the impact. It is a valuable summary of actions which the Council, the Chamber and GEL collectively agreed would help tackle some of the issues which Brexit is throwing up.

Council leader Frank McAveety set out the main asks - some relevant to the Scottish Government, some to the Westminster government and some showing what the local stakeholders could be doing ourselves. I was asked to explain the business community perspective, and Kevin Kane from GEL explored messages from each of the city’s growing sectors.

It’s worth saying that the report may be the only example across the UK of a city’s collective business, academic and political voice – Greg Clark, the international urban economic adviser who regularly hosts Glasgow’s annual State of the City Economy Conference certainly thought so, and Mike Russell hadn’t seen another from within Scotland.

The document doesn’t attempt to answer the bigger, challenging issues about the Hard Brexit or Soft Brexit choices but Mike Russell did search for some agreement on where we stood on that. I come from the premise that the Chamber of Commerce has argued consistently for over two hundred years against trade barriers, whether these be tariffs, regulatory hurdles or unhelpful bureaucratic documentation requirements.

Whatever else you may think about the European Union, the single market has been a wholescale experiment in removing those barriers and so there is a logic that in arguing for minimal barriers the debate takes you step by step towards some form of single market.

Indeed the Scottish Chambers own survey following the Brexit decision showed that members were most concerned to secure access to the EU single market without the imposition of financial tariffs on trade. So I followed the members’ view and agreed that an outcome with a single market flavour was a preference.

Where will we stand though if it’s a Hard Brexit, as one might conclude from the Prime Minister’s speech and from the articles of respected commentators such as the FT’s Martin Wolff? Well, I don’t know.  A negotiating position is being set out and I’m not sure we’ll truly be clear until the negotiations are complete - as I heard the British Chamber of Commerce’s senior European adviser say in European negotiations ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’

No matter what the outcome though, business must carry on regardless. The document concentrates more then on what UK, Scottish and local government can do to mitigate the impact of Brexit until we know what that final outcome is.

That includes issues like commitments to European-funded academic research, securing the status of EU students and accelerating infrastructure investment to reinforce economic confidence.

And that is where the Chamber will be concentrating its efforts – on promoting trading opportunities with Glasgow business, encouraging investment in the Glasgow economy and in promoting the Chamber’s members at every opportunity.

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