An influential manufacturing lobby group is demanding that the government rethink its current hard Brexit stance in the wake of the election result, to save sector jobs.
“[EEF] said without a more pro-business stance, the resulting political instability may force more firms to alter their plans ‘away from the UK’,” reports the BBC.
“It wants access to the single market to be at the heart of Brexit negotiations.”
The Conservative government promised prior to the election to take the UK out of the single market in order in particular to clamp down on immigration, saying it would seek the “best possible” tariff-free trading deal with the EU.
Despite having failed to increase or even maintain its majority at the snap general election, re-appointed Brexit Secretary David Davis insisted the government’s approach has not changed.
But the election was a humiliation for Prime Minister Theresa May and she is now likely to face pressure to soften her stance, not least from the block of 13 Scottish Conservative MPs who favour prioritising the single market in negotiations.
UK manufacturing has been growing of late, softening the blow of declining services sector growth, and EEF recently upgraded its forecast and predicted sector expansion of 1.3 per cent this year.
Almost half of all exports from the UK go to the EU, so the sector is heavily dependent on the single market.
While a hard Brexit is in one sense less likely now, however, Sir Martin Sorrell, boss of advertising firm WPP, told City AM the hardest Brexit of all is also more likely.
A minority government will have more of a task to secure the parliamentary approval it has said it will seek for any Brexit deal – and with another election possible EU negotiators are also warning that time is running out.
With three months already having elapsed since Article 50 was triggered, Michel Barnier, who is heading the EU delegation, told the Financial Times there is a risk that the UK could “crash out of the EU in March 2019”.
“We’re preparing for all options — including that of a ‘no deal,” Barnier said.