Businesses right to be concerned about Brexit, says Philip Hammond

UK chancellor acknowledges businesses need more clarity on the road ahead.

UK chancellor Philip Hammond acknowledges businesses need more clarity on the road ahead.Reuters

UK businesses are right to demand more clarity on Brexit, Chancellor Philip Hammond acknowledged on Monday (2 October).

Speaking at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, Hammond announced an extra £300m to improve rail links in the North of England, defended free markets and the importance of business and government working together to tackle inequality.

However, the chancellor said "short-term challenges" and the uncertainty created by the Brexit negotiation process remain a concern for businesses and government.

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In an earlier interview with the BBC, he added: "We're already seeing some decisions being made. What we're hearing from business is a plea: 'Don't put us in a position where we have to assume the worst, give us a horizon so we can plan the future with confidence'.

"The sooner we can get some clarity, the sooner we can move forward, give businesses and investors more certainty about the future, the quicker this economy will start growing again."

Hammond also hinted there may be some room for help to business in the November budget: "What I've said in previous fiscal events is we have the flexibility to respond to support the economy through what is a very difficult period as we negotiate our exit from the European Union.

"We will have to be prepared to support the economy as necessary throughout this period."

Responding to the chancellor's comments, Carolyn Fairbairn, director general of the Confederation of British Industry, said the UK is facing a generation defining-challenge. "A potent cocktail of Brexit uncertainty and dogma-driven politics on both left and right threatens jobs, investment and living standards. Now is not the time for half measures.

"The speech shows a government strong on diagnosis, but weak on action. Businesses looking for clear vision and urgent delivery have been left with slim pickings. Renewing the UK's creaking infrastructure will unlock regional growth and living standards, as will improving access to housing."

Meanwhile, the British Chamber of Commerce (BCC) said its members were "growing impatient with division" at the heart of the government around the Brexit process, and called for ministers to show "competence and coherence".

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Elsewhere, the Institute of Directors (IoD) called for the chancellor to boost private-sector investment.

The lobby group's director general Stephen Martin said: "Businesses are not immune to their political surroundings and confidence cannot be taken for granted."

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