Colin Borland: Minimising Brexit impact must be top priority

Piocture: Getty
Piocture: Getty
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IT’S business as usual for Scotland’s small businesses but we need to know what Brexit will mean for us, says Colin Borland

The jaw-dropping events that unfolded on Thursday night and Friday morning saw the pound fall to a new low against the dollar and the London Stock Exchange drop by around 8 per cent. The Prime Minister resigned and Donald Trump hailed the decision to leave the EU.

But, for the army of smaller businesses in Scotland’s real economy, yesterday was a normal working day – with shops opening; deals being done; and factories manufacturing.

Scotland’s 360,000 smaller enterprises must be applauded for getting on with business as usual while the markets wobbled and stunned politicians appeared on live television trying to make sense of what the voters (their voters, in many cases) had done to them.

But this stoicism shouldn’t be mistaken for indifference.

Business owners understandably have all manner of questions about what life after the EU, and the transition towards it, mean for their operations. It is therefore vital that the UK Government makes it a priority to explain the practical implications of the referendum result.

About a sixth of FSB’s Scottish members export, with the majority exporting to the single market. Access to this 11 trillion Euro single market means access to 500 million potential consumers and more than 26 million businesses. So, not unsurprisingly, we are keen to know whether our businesses will have access to that market and, if so, on what basis. Those in Scotland’s £9.7 billion tourism industry will want to know how changes to rules on free movement of people will affect their ability to recruit seasonal migrant workers.

Far from answering these questions, it seems the powers that be cannot even agree on when any of this is going to happen. That is not good enough.

I welcome the Prime Minister’s assurance that the Scottish Government, and the other devolved administrations, will be fully involved in the negotiations around the UK’s departure from the EU. It is the job of everyone involved in those talks to make minimising the impact on business and trade their top priority.

Further, our cool-headed First Minister was absolutely right to reassure citizens of other EU countries in Scotland that they are still welcome here. Many of these people will be our members, or our members’ employees, and we don’t want to lose that talent.

However, the possibility of a second independence referendum – as mooted by the FM – must not draw resources away from efforts to help smaller businesses trade through what looks set to be an uncertain period.

• Colin Borland is head of external affairs for the FSB in Scotland

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