Blackfriar: It's time for Yorkshire business leaders to speak up over Brexit

Liv Garfield, the Yorkshire-born and bred CEO of Severn Trent
Liv Garfield, the Yorkshire-born and bred CEO of Severn Trent
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May I send a heartfelt thank you to all the Yorkshire delegates at the CBI conference in London who sought me out to express concern about the future of the Yorkshire Post.

As I told them, we are hale and hearty, raring to go and it’s business as usual. The buyout by JPIMedia secures our jobs, our future and we plan to continue to deliver top class journalism for the whole of Yorkshire.

As far as I know, Yorkshire is the only county in England that has its own dedicated, daily newspaper.

Liv Garfield, the Yorkshire-born and bred CEO of Severn Trent, told the 1,500 delegates that the Yorkshire Post is her favourite newspaper. I’m not sure how well that went down with newspapers in the Midlands, Severn Trent’s heartland, but we appreciate the endorsement.

There really was only one subject at the CBI conference and that was the Brexit negotiations. Delegates I spoke to were full of praise for the director-general of the CBI, Carolyn Fairbairn. For too long, the CBI has been toothless so it is refreshing to hear a strong voice at the head of it.

She told the conference that Brexit is consuming Government – every politician, every civil servant and it is also consuming British business.

I spoke to a high ranking civil servant after the conference and he told me that not one piece of legislation is passing through Parliament. Brexit is taking up every second of every hour of every day.

Ms Fairbairn said that British firms are spending hundreds of millions of pounds preparing for the worst case scenario and not one penny of this money will create new jobs or new products.

She warned that the result is a high stakes game of risk, where the outcome could be an accidental no deal.

“The Prime Minister’s agreement is not perfect. It is a compromise,” she concluded.

It is a sentiment that was echoed by Yorkshire Bank’s finance chief, who has warned that leaving the EU without a deal would be a “disaster”.

Ian Smith, CFO of Yorkshire Bank’s parent company CYBG, said: “We absolutely need a deal because no deal is a disaster. Politicians (who support a no deal Brexit) have other motivations, most of which relate to self interest. No deal would be a substantial economic shock to the UK.”

Under a no deal scenario, the UK would revert to WTO rules. The Bank of England has warned that a no deal could plunge the economy into a crisis not seen since the 1970s.

It is becoming clear that the hardline Brexiters who want to leave the EU with no deal are living in a fantasy world. People need to listen to business leaders - they understand the mechanics of business unlike Jacob Rees-Mogg and his ilk who want to send Britain over the cliff edge.

But do business leaders really think Theresa May’s deal will solve all our problems? Already Spain and France are seeking to protect their own interests. It is every country thinking only of its own needs, which was why the European Union was set up in the first place.

There is a lot wrong with the EU, just as there is a lot wrong with the NHS, but no-one is calling for us to ditch that much-loved institution.

The EU needs reforming and we need to be part of that reform, not outside on our own with no friends to call on at a time of great global uncertainty.

The time is not yet right for a second referendum on the final deal, but it will be in the coming months as the enormity of leaving without a deal becomes clearer.

Yorkshire business leaders must not shirk their duty. They must stand up for what they believe in or future generations will never forgive us.