The head of one of Britain’s biggest business groups has called for the UK to secure a significantly longer transition period to follow next year’s exit from the European Union after last week’s failure to agree a tariff schedule at the World Trade Organisation (WTO). He urges the Government to recognise the dangers to jobs and livelihoods that would follow the simultaneous loss of EU membership benefits whilst our negotiations with the WTO are still in their infancy.

Stephen Phipson CBE, Chief Executive of EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation said an extension to the implementation or transition period was now vital.  International trade negotiations often take over 5 years and we are only at the beginning of this process. 

The Government has failed to prepare adequately for the time and complexity required to reach agreement with the WTO. Whilst talks continue industry urgently needs clarity and stability. That means a significantly longer transition period following our exit from the EU.

This will ensure UK manufacturing can continue to operate under the EU’s existing protections while the Government takes the time it needs to secure advantageous new trading deals with other countries.

Manufacturing employs 2.8 million people in the UK accounts for close to half of all exports: the implications for companies, jobs and the families who rely on them are significant.

Commenting, Stephen Phipson added: “As we have consistently said, successful international trade deals take years to negotiate. The Government’s hope that agreeing a tariff schedule with the WTO would be simple was naïve. At a time of rising protectionism and the return of barriers to trade it is no great surprise that other countries have refused to accept our ‘cut and paste’ short-cut.

“Many of our members have been planning on the back of repeated assurances that membership of the WTO and new trading deals with other countries would be struck quickly and easily. Now the Government must recognise that this strategy has failed and it must allow industry sufficient time to prepare for an uncertain global trading relationship. We must not give up all the benefits of the EU.”