THERESA MAY has promised business leaders they will not face a “cliff edge” as a result of Britain leaving the European Union.
The Prime Minister, who has stubbornly refused to set out the Government’s approach to the Brexit talks, conceded Britain would be seeking transitional arrangements with Brussels.
Mrs May was speaking at the CBI conference after its president, Paul Drechsler, had expressed concern business could face a “sudden and overnight” change in trading conditions when Britain leaves the EU.
She said: “I understand the point that Paul has made, others have made this point, that people don’t want a cliff-edge; they want to know with some certainty how things are going to go forward.
“That will be part of the work that we do in terms of the negotiation that we are undertaking with the European Union.”
Amid growing calls among some eurosceptics for Britain to seek a swift departure from the EU, Mrs May insisted there would be no rush to the exit door.
She also tried to persuade business leaders that Brexit would bring new opportunities as well as uncertainty.
Mrs May said: “This is going to be a negotiation and it is going to take time.”
She told the conference: “I know that leaving the European Union creates uncertainty for business.
“I know that some are unsure about the road ahead or what your future operating environment will look like.
“And there will certainly be challenges. A negotiation like the one on which we are about to embark cannot be done quickly or without give and take on both sides.
“But there are opportunities too. Opportunities to get out into the world and do new business with old allies and new partners.”
Earlier Mr Drechsler had warned businesses faced “real, practical implications” as a result of Britain’s departure from the EU which could not be solved at short notice.
He said: “for many firms it’s not about a ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ Brexit, but a ‘smooth’ Brexit, which avoids these cliff edge problems.
“The Government should build on the positive moves it has already made to dispel uncertainty by drawing up plans for a smooth transition, giving firms both the time to adapt to new regulation and the confidence to invest beyond 2019.”
Mrs May’s concession is the latest effort to bolster business confidence amid concerns the uncertainty over Brexit could harm economic growth.
The Office for Budget Responsibility will publish its first forecasts since the EU referendum alongside the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement on Wednesday which are expected to predict lower tax revenues for the Government on the back of poorer than expected growth.
Pat McFadden MP, speaking for the Open Britain campaign, said: “It is good that the Prime Minister understands the dangers of a cliff edge for the economy during the Brexit negotiations.
“Some within her party seem to be pushing for a hard Brexit whatever the economic consequences.
“However, without a transitional agreement between leaving and agreeing the future arrangements, the danger is that the UK would fall out of the single market and customs union, incurring tariffs for our manufacturing industry, losing passporting rights for our financial services, and posing threats to our agriculture.
“None of that is good for jobs or living standards.”