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Liz McAreavey talks Brexit; ‘It needs to be business as usual’

Posted: 4th April 2017

It’s difficult to listen to the radio, read a paper or have a conversation without the word Brexit taking a prominent position. What did we talk about before Brexit?

And now Article 50 has finally been triggered we sit and wait for the outcome. For all the posturing, I suspect it’s rather like an iceberg; the deals are happening, but below the wake. But two years?

The Great Repeal Bill is being presented to Parliament – to turn all EU law into UK law, which can then be changed or removed at leisure – and is likely to take quite a few months. Then we have the other 7 Bills, maybe even up to 15 Bills to pass through Parliament. Some of these will be quite meaty too – Migrant Bill, Reciprocal Healthcare, Road Freight, Nuclear Safety, Agriculture, Fisheries, Data protection… that’s a lot of work and still only deals with the repatriation of powers.

We also have the big issue of the influence of EU Court of Justice. As we move to UK law being decided by UK Judges in UK courts, we still have 40 years of EU case law – so perhaps not so straightforward. This is going to be a long 2 years and significant progress needs to be made with negotiations on the rights of EU citizens, agreement on our legal and budgetary commitments and the border with Ireland before we get to agreeing the new ‘deep and special relationship’ of the UK with the EU. So are we likely to get the ’Goldilocks’ Brexit of an FTA deal and transitional agreement until negotiations are finalised? What was it David Davis said –“no deal is better than a bad deal”? We could be in for a long wait.

And what is Scotland’s place in the UK and EU?

Nicola Sturgeon has the Scottish Parliament’s agreement to demand a section 30 order from the UK Government to hold a second referendum. By any standards, Scotland is a well off country but our growth is a third of the UK’s – North Sea oil revenues are well below what was projected and there are budget deficits within the Health Service and Police Scotland. With half of the Scottish budget linked to economic performance, the elephant in the room is independent or not, how do we prepare our economy for the future – what’s the new business model?

We need to maximise growth but it needs to be inclusive growth that is shared by all. We need to invest in our future – invest in digital connectivity, infrastructure, productivity and skills. We need to build things and we need to invest in people, beyond just skills, but also attitude and aptitude and entrepreneurial mind set. So we need to start early, with the very young.

City Deals will go some way to enabling this investment, but we also know that the future is almost unimaginable. Robotics, Artificial Intelligence and digitisation means there will be a new jobs landscape, jobs not yet invented. Scotland is leading the world in the Tech and FinTech space. Our universities are driving innovation in AI and Robotics – we need to commercialise and scale and achieve the economic impact this innovation has the potential to deliver. We need to make smart decisions on where and how to invest in our future.

So with the continued uncertainty of Brexit and Indyref#2 it needs to be business as usual. What happens when the business environment changes? 87% of businesses succeed due to their own efforts. I am confident that the business community will prevail with the vast majority ignoring the politics and focussing on making profit and creating value.

Liz McAreavey is chief executive of Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce.

Business Comment

Business Comment is the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce’s bi-monthly magazine. It provides insight on Edinburgh’s vibrant business community, with features on the city’s key sectors, interviews with leading figures and news on new business developments in the capital.
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