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Raab’s first job – building bridges with business

The leaders of Britain’s biggest business groups have met new Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, telling him that time is running out for a deal to be agreed with the European Union.

Mr Raab met bosses of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), Institute of Directors, Confederation of British Industry, Federation of Small Businesses and the EEF, which represents manufacturers.

The group, together with civil servants, met this morning at the Cabinet Office in Whitehall, along with the Business Secretary Greg Clark.

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Sky News understands that the five business groups have enjoyed weekly meetings with Mr Clark in recent months, but met only once every six weeks with the previous Brexit Secretary, David Davis.

Over the past few weeks, a number of big companies, including Airbus, JLR and BMW, have talked of having to rethink investment plans after Brexit, while other businesses have said they lack information about how to plan for the future.

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Among their first requests to Mr Raab was a call for greater clarity about the Government’s aims from its negotiations, with one group telling me that most British businesses are “in the dark” about the “the most basic questions of how they will trade in the future”.

The BCC maintains a risk register of 24 different challenges facing British commerce.

Progress is rated using a scale of green amber and red – on the most recent list, there are no problems considered to have enjoyed “green” progress, two that are marked as “amber”, and 22 that are rated as red – meaning that the BCC thinks there has been almost no progress.

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After the meeting, the BCC’s Director General Adam Marshall said he was “encouraged” by what Mr Raab had said, but emphasised the need for rapid progress.

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“The important thing is getting answers for businesses,” he told me. “I’m willing to work with any minister to get that clarity.

“Businesses were cheered on Friday, then worried on Sunday and Monday. The important thing now is to settle down and get some continuity at the heart of Government, and use the starting point of the Chequers agreement to move towards a deal.

“But the Chequers agreement is just one side of a negotiating position. We need to see progress beyond this.

“We have some clarity now, and there are a lot of firms who would have wished that we’d had this sort of clarity much, much earlier, but now we need to see action. Time is pressing.

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“Some businesses need answers immediately, others can wait a while, but everyone needs answers, and that needs to happen quickly. Firms are pragmatic – their message is always: ‘tell us what is going to happen, and we’ll get on with it’.”

CBI director general Carolyn Fairbairn called the meeting “constructive and positive”, while the EEF’s Stephen Phipson told me that it had been encouraging, but that the proof of good intentions would come when the government unveiled its long-awaited white paper.

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“We need to see the detail that sits in the white paper,” said Phipson, “so this meeting was an important step for us.

“We need proper engagement and quickly with the EU, remembering we have only got a few week left of this negotiation, so that needs to develop very very quickly.”

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