Sir Keir warned that the UK could be in for a bumpy year as Brexit approaches. He promised to keep listening to the views of businesses around Britain.
He made the comments at The Yorkshire Fastest 50 awards, the annual celebration of the region’s fastest growing companies, which is organised by the law firm Ward Hadaway with support from The Yorkshire Post. Sir Keir was speaking before the announcement that the EU and UK had made a “decisive step” towards agreeing a joint legal text on the UK’s EU withdrawal.
In his speech at the Fastest 50 awards, Sir Keir said: “My strong sense from all the discussions I’ve had with businesses, is that there is near unity about what you and the wider community want.
“The first is certainty. No businesses want uncertainty. It really affects investment. Hence, the plea for knowing what’s going to happen in March 2019 and knowing as much as possible about what’s going to happen after that.”
He said he was also picking up a “pretty clear” message from manufacturers.
“They are saying. ‘We certainly don’t want tariffs and we don’t want to pick up extra burdens on the border,’’ he added.
“We want to protect our supply chain. And most of them have said to me, ‘We don’t particularly want to diverge on standards.
“The last thing we really want to do if we’re trading with Europe is to have one set of standards for the UK, and another set of standards for the EU, because that just makes a massive headache for us.
He added: “From services, the message is not dissimilar. We need common standards, so we need common regulation and we need to be on a level playing field.
“Nobody I have spoken to is particularly keen on deregulation or pulling away from workplace rights and food safety standards. Almost all businesses say, ‘We like the fact that we’re operating to high standards.
“Lastly, businesses are saying to me, ‘Trade with the rest of the world is a really good thing. The more of it the better but not at the expense of our trade with Europe please.
“And also there’s a very strong message about skills and talent and the ability to have people come from other countries to provide those skill and talent that is needed.
“So, those are the really important themes. It’s going to be a bumpy year; we’ve had two or three bumpy years. We’re in for another one.
“My job is to predict what might happen. That is fraught with difficulties. Please talk to me about your views on Brexit. I need to know because that way it can inform my decisions.”
Sir Keir, who was a student at Leeds University, added: “I just love this city and I love this region. Just looking through the brochure of the 50 businesses here today, I was really struck by the fact you’ve got some businesses who are in the manufacturing sector; and really pushing that smart manufacturing, which I think is so important.”
The winner of the fastest growing small business trophy at this year’s awards was Azzure IT, and Production Park secured the prize for the fastest growing medium-sized business.
The winner of the award for fastest growing large business - and the overall fastest growing business - was Pure Retirement.
The event also included a speech from Greg Wright, The Yorkshire Post’s deputy business editor.