Carolyn Fairbairn: Businesses across Europe want the closest possible economic relationship post-Brexit

On the UK and the EU’s shared future

We have an overwhelming shared interest in building the trading relationships which will define our shared future. This is not a zero-sum game.

In today’s inter-connected economy which relies on supply chains crossing borders and nations, our fates are intertwined.

With a good agreement, European businesses can win together. The business community – in the UK and the EU – is united in wanting an agreement with as few barriers as possible. Yet without an agreement, we’d lose together.

For both sides, leaving the negotiating table without a deal shouldn’t be ‘Plan B’ but ‘Plan Z’. Whether it’s tariffs or regulation, a no deal scenario would have chilling effects on both sides of the Channel.

At the CBI, we’ve been meeting our peer business organisations from across Europe, convening a clear, European business voice and making these messages heard.”

On the need for focus to secure a new agreement

When European decision-makers have conversations with their firms, they’ll find that many want to get on with discussing a new trading relationship.

Far from being about doing the UK a favour, it is based on solid economic reasoning for both sides.

The Irish business organisation IBEC, for example, has called for ‘rapid progress to be made on agreeing the divorce settlement, so that the far more important issue of an EU-UK trade deal can be addressed’.

Take a look at the numbers and you see that our long-term trading relationship is the real prize – dwarfing any potential divorce settlement.

A one-off EU divorce bill of, some suggest, tens of billions of euros, compared to EU-UK trade worth well over 600 billion euros every year.

What is in both sides’ long-term mutual interest must not be clouded. It’s important that policy makers in the UK and Europe listen to these messages from the factory floors, labs and studios of firms across Europe.

That they fully understand the realities of inter-connected, 21st century supply chains that have driven prosperity for so long. And that we move quickly from deconstructing our old relationship to building an ambitious, comprehensive new relationship.”

On the links between businesses in the UK and elsewhere in Europe

In just two days’ time, Europe’s leaders will be meeting at the EU Summit to agree a common response to the Article 50 letter.

In these discussions it’s vital that the economics cuts through the politics. So our message to European firms and policy makers is ‘keep on talking, keep on listening’.

We need to make sure politicians in all EU countries understand just how much we have all benefitted.

It would be good for the members of the Bundestag to know that German firms supply 60% of the electronics in yachts built by a firm in Norwich.

And for French Senators to know that small and medium-sized firms in Paris have been building robots that fix wind turbines with an engineering company here in Cambridge.

Across the Continent, businesses are the wealth creators. They’re generating jobs, supporting families and changing lives. And many are now looking at how Brexit will affect the way they work.

Carolyn Fairbairn is CBI Director-General. A verson of this speech was delivered at Cambridge University on April 27 2017.