A key North East business leader called on the Prime Minister to show leadership and support regional businesses in a stinging letter ahead of the European Council meeting.
James Ramsbotham, chief executive of the North East England Chamber of Commerce, wrote to Theresa May, spelling out how the poor progress on Brexit negotiations is causing huge frustration and potential damage to businesses in the region.
He said: “Whilst we have accepted the referendum result, our members are exasperated at the lack of tangible progress towards a positive deal which is clearly hindering business planning.
“While our regional economy currently remains robust, we regularly hear about lower investor confidence, projects being delayed and skilled workers leaving for other countries due to uncertainty over our future business landscape.
“This is being compounded by a lack of clarity from Government over its own preferred approach to Brexit.
“At the heart of this lies woefully underwhelming levels of engagement and consultation by Government with local businesses.”
He added: “There are perfectly valid fears among our exporters that the Government’s stance on the Customs Union and Single Market will only serve to harm our ability to trade with our biggest export market.”
He set out the strength of the North East export economy, with 62 per cent of export goods destined for the EU and the consequent vulnerability to a poorly managed Brexit process.
Citing Treasury analysis that highlighted this vulnerability, he said: “We presume the Government believes the ultimate outcome of the Brexit negotiations will both be better overall and significantly better for North East England, given its manifesto commitments.
“However, we’re yet to see any firm evidence on which to base this view. We have repeatedly heard Chamber member views raised by regional MPs in the House of Commons, but are yet to receive a sufficient answer in that place, or a response to the Chamber directly. How can we expect North East businesses to gain reassurance, when Government fails to address their legitimate concerns?”
To help support its members, the Chamber has produced a Brexit toolkit, working with 150 businesses to highlight areas companies can consider such as how access to markets, labour and finance may change after Brexit, as well as any regulatory changes which may affect them.