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With Brexit Looming Over UK’s Future, Five New Business Councils Are Set Up to Advise Prime Minister on “Post-Brexit Opportunities”

According to Mrs. May, “the UK has always been one of the best places in the world to do business and is a leader in sectors from advanced manufacturing to the creative industries. Brexit presents a huge opportunity to build a better, stronger economy for people all over the country. So I’ve asked these new councils to advise us on the opportunities and challenges facing business as we shape the UK for the future.”

On 7 November 2018, the co-chairpersons of each business council will be met by the Prime Minister at Downing Street for the first time. Indeed, two business leaders will co-chair each of the councils, and each of them will have around ten members representing core sectors of the UK economy, as well as a representative from the UK’s key business groups.

At their first meeting, Mrs. May is expected to set out their objectives, while also discussing issues like productivity and international investment. After that, the chairpersons of each council is to be responsible for setting out their respective agendas, ensuring all members are briefed, and working towards outcomes and progress on the key enabling opportunities for the businesses represented by their council.

Hong Kong sellers keen to continue doing business in a post-Brexit UK, should know that the business councils will be advisory in nature. They will not hold any decision-making powers and they will report to the Prime Minister. Yet, given that the councils’ members come from well-known business backgrounds and organisations, their influence is likely to be more than perfunctory.

The councils are to be formed according to the following main topics:

  • Services - Financial, Professional and Education Services: financial services, professional and business services, education and research.
  • Industrial, Infrastructure and Manufacturing: materials, aerospace, defence, advanced manufacturing, automotive, aviation, ports and rail, infrastructure, construction and housing, energy, environmental services.
  • Consumer, Retail and Life Sciences: life sciences, agriculture, food and drink, consumer goods and retail, tourism.
  • Telecoms, Creative Industries, Technology and Media: digital and telecoms, media and broadcasting, creative industries.
  • Small Business, Scale ups and Entrepreneurs.

The chairpersons of each business council hail from high-level industries and as such are expected to bring plenty of business experience and ideas to the advisory table. The chairman of the BT group, and the CEO of a leading TV channel, namely, ITV, will both chair the telecoms business council, for example, while the CEOs of Tesco and GSK (GlaxoSmithKline) will co-chair the consumer council. Other executives on the councils come from Rolls Royce, Prudential, Santander and Timpson, while representatives from the CBI, Institute of Directors, British Chambers of Commerce and the Federation of Small Business will also attend.

The terms of reference and role of each business council will be to provide the Prime Minister and her ministerial team with regular, high-level advice and policy recommendations on critical issues affecting businesses, and which will enable companies to invest, grow and succeed in the UK once it leaves the EU. As such, it is hoped that their influence may create a positive business environment, including for goods imported into the territory from, e.g., Hong Kong and mainland China. The councils’ launch is a new initiative and is said to form part of a comprehensive, sector-focused approach, enabling the Prime Minister and government to engage directly with more businesses in the different sectors of the UK economy.

Ironically, the formation of these councils has been announced only days after over 70 business executives signed a letter addressed to the UK’s Sunday Times, demanding that a public vote be taken on the UK's Brexit deal. The head of bookseller chain Waterstones and the former head of supermarket chain Sainsbury's counted themselves among those claiming that a “destructive hard Brexit” would damage the UK economy.

In addition, on 5 November, in a massive poll conducted for the UK’s Channel 4 TV channel, 54% of British citizens said that should a second referendum be held, they would vote to remain in the EU, while only 46% stated that they would vote to leave. The survey holds itself to be the biggest of its kind. The results contrast visibly with the first referendum, when voters had chosen to leave the EU by a 52% majority. It is also reported that a group called Business for a People's Vote (which are expected to call for a second referendum) will be launched on 8 November 2018.

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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