CBI: No-deal Brexit poses catastrophic risk to Scotland

Prime Minister Theresa May  Picture: Leon Neal/Getty Images
Prime Minister Theresa May Picture: Leon Neal/Getty Images
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Companies should steer clear of politics but they can provide information to help politicians make the right decisions – and leaving the European Union without a trade deal risks making a mistake of historic proportions, writes CBI Director-General Carolyn Fairbairn.

We’re now just six weeks away from a major EU summit in Salzburg that will shape lives across Scotland and the UK for generations. It’s important to be clear that firms don’t take political decisions – it’s not our job. But we can provide the evidence to help with good political decision-making. And, with the support of our members, that’s what we’ve been doing.

The Chequers deal has the makings of a workable compromise and has many of the ingredients that we know firms want and we have campaigned for.

We know how much Scotland values smooth trade and open borders; the Chequers deal does propose a free trade area for goods with a common rulebook. That’s real progress and will be welcomed by firms across the EU as well. But until we have a clear way forward, uncertainty will continue.

A no-deal exit from the EU is a catastrophic risk for Scotland and the rest of the UK. It creates barriers to talent, stifling Scotland’s professional services firms. And Scotland’s status as a fintech power could be put at risk by new regulations on data. That’s why we will continue to make the case for a sensible and pragmatic way forward.

READ MORE: No-deal Brexit ‘could lead to break up of UK’

Last year, we launched a landmark report looking at how productivity could be lifted across every one of Scotland’s regions.

It was very good to see many of them reflected in the Scottish budget last year. And on Tuesday, the Programme for Government outlined more money for transport and digital infrastructure, and trade envoys to champion Scottish goods and services, backing the exporters of the future and support for upskilling and retraining.

On business rates, we called on the Scottish Government to go beyond the recommendations in the Barclay Review, by making the switch from the retail price index (RPI) to the Consumer Price Index (CPI). And they listened. Real partnership between government and business has never been more important.

Scotland has a brilliant and talented workforce, but the stats show that it also has a shrinking workforce. Demographics are not in Scotland’s favour.

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Add Brexit uncertainty and a brain-drain to the South East and overseas and you have a potent mix of problems. The skills shortages are biting, not in the future, not soon, but right now.

So last month, the CBI called for a new immigration system. A system that earns public trust, while allowing business to attract the people they need. A system that’s open but controlled.

We are clear it must work for Scotland. I’ve been asked “do we need a devolved solution for Scotland?” It’s a fair question. But the businesses agree “not right now”. Let’s get it right for the whole UK.

The better the outcome we get, the less need for variation across the UK, and the less companies need worry about doubled-up systems and extra red tape.