Theresa May set out to persuade the business community to back her Brexit deal in a speech to the CBI conference yesterday.
She delivered the speech at the start of what she has admitted will be a crucial week in the Brexit process in which she intends to “hammer out the full and final details of the framework that will underpin our future relationship” before an EU summit meeting on Sunday.
The deal would give the UK “control of our borders, laws and money”, take the UK out of the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy and “set us on course for a prosperous future where livelihoods are protected”, the prime minister said.
She spoke against a background of continuing speculation over whether the number of Conservative MPs who oppose the deal and who have submitted letters of no confidence in her leadership would reach the threshold of 48 needed to trigger a vote of confidence.
Mrs May said that new immigration rules will mean that “it will no longer be the case that EU nationals, regardless of the skills or experience they have to offer, can jump the queue ahead of engineers from Sydney or software developers from Delhi. Instead of a system based on where a person is from, we will have one that is built around the talents and skills a person has to offer.”
Noting the reliance of manufacturing and particularly the car makers on just-in-time supply chains she said “the deal proposed will work for all of them and sustain the livelihoods they provide to working people across the UK.”
For services she said: “We have agreed with the EU to negotiate a trading relationship in services more ambitious than any existing free trade agreement.” Regulatory autonomy would be preserved, but “we will each ensure that our approaches are transparent, efficient and compatible as far as possible.”
She called on business “to demonstrate that you truly have a stake in the success of this country… by investing in the future of the next generation by giving them a chance to develop their skills and begin a rewarding career.”
Last week, responding to publication of the Brexit deal, CBI Director-General Carolyn Fairbairn said: “After 20 months of debate, this agreement by cabinet is progress. If passed, it moves the UK one step away from the nightmare precipice of no deal and the harm it would cause to communities across the country. Securing a transition period has long been firms’ top priority and every day that passes without one means lost investment and jobs. Time is now up. This deal is a compromise, but it offers that essential transitional period as a step back from the cliff-edge.”
She added that more clarity on the final relationship was needed, but the transition period should pave the way for more work on a deal to secure “frictionless trade, ambitious access for our world-beating services, and a say over future rules”.
She added: “A long journey still lies ahead but now is the time for decisions. And the first decision is to avoid no deal.”