UK must stay in EU single market and customs union for as long as it takes to arrange final deal, business leaders say

Business leaders are demanding the government agrees the UK remains in the EU single market and customs union for as long as it takes to arrange a final trade deal.

Industry groups representing thousands of UK employers – including the CBI, the British Chambers of Commerce, the Institute of Directors, the Federation of Small Businesses and EEF – will join forces to try and soften the government’s strategy to leave the EU during a summit at Chevening house with Brexit secretary David Davis today.

Speaking at the London School of Economics before the meeting, CBI director Carolyn Fairbairn will say: “Instead of a cliff edge, the UK needs a bridge to the new EU deal. Even with the greatest possible goodwill on both sides, it’s impossible to imagine the detail will be clear by the end of March 2019. This is a time to be realistic.

“The prospect of multiple cliff edges – in tariffs, red tape and regulation – is already casting a long shadow over business decisions. The result is a ‘drip drip’ of investment decisions deferred or lost.”

She will say: “A major European engineering and electronics firm has told us it has shelved plans to build a UK innovation centre. A UK infrastructure provider is already having problems retaining and recruiting skilled workers from the EU needed to build the rails, roads and houses already planned.”

Terry Scuoler, chief executive of manufacturers group EEF, said the government’s current strategy was harmful.

He said: “The brinkmanship involved in taking Brexit negotiations to the line, while leaving businesses guessing about the likely outcome, risks causing serious economic damage.”