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UK business patience 'at breaking point' over Brexit

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The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), which represents thousands of firms across the country, issued the assessment before Prime Minister Theresa May's crunch Brexit ministerial summit this week at her countryside retreat.

[LONDON] The patience of British business is at "breaking point" over the government's lack of progress in Brexit talks, a key lobby group warned Tuesday.

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), which represents thousands of firms across the country, issued the assessment before Prime Minister Theresa May's crunch Brexit ministerial summit this week at her countryside retreat.

The organisation urged politicians to "stop squabbling" and called for clarity over 24 top business worries, including tax, tariffs, customs and regulation in the post-Brexit world.

Mrs May will take her divided Cabinet away on Friday to Chequers, north of London, in a bid to thrash out their differences on how close economically Britain should stay to the EU, with just nine months to go until the nation's exit on March 29 next year.

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"Now, with the time running out ahead of the UK's exit from the EU, business patience is reaching breaking point," said BCC director general Adam Marshall in a statement, stressing that firms had waited patiently for two years.

"Businesses have every right to speak out when it is abundantly clear that the practical questions affecting the competitiveness of their firms and the livelihoods of millions of people remain unanswered," Mr Marshall said.

"With less than nine months go to until Brexit day, we are little closer to the answers businesses need than we were the day after the referendum."

Ahead of Friday's summit, finance minister Philip Hammond called for business concerns to be taken seriously.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, a key Cabinet Brexiteer, had recently used a four-letter word to dismiss those same business fears.

"I think the views of business, which is the great generator of employment and wealth and prosperity in our country, should always be taken very carefully into account," Mr Hammond told parliament on Tuesday.

"We have to listen to what business is telling us and make sure that we deliver a Brexit which delivers the needs of business."

He added: "I will be setting out for my colleagues, in the privacy of our cabinet discussions on Friday, the Treasury... assessment of the implications of different potential routes forward.

"But as the prime minister has said, we can't give a running commentary in public on a matter where we are in intensive discussions with our European interlocutors."

In recent weeks, major European manufacturers Airbus, BMW and Siemens have warned that Brexit could mean their pulling investment out of Britain, imperilling tens of thousands of jobs.

Britain voted narrowly in June 2016 to quit the European Union but politicians from all sides have wrestled ever since with the future shape of its post-Brexit relationship with the bloc.

"It's time for politicians to stop the squabbling and the Westminster point-scoring - and start putting the national economic interest first," added BCC boss Marshall.

"These are not siren voices or special interests. They are the practical, real-world concerns of businesses of every size and sector, in every part of the UK."

Separately on Tuesday, the professional services sector warned in an open letter to Mrs May that a bad Brexit deal could damage its ability to work across the EU.

The Professional and Business Services Council said it was essential to secure mutual recognition on qualifications, regulations and legal judgments between the UK and the bloc.

The council's members include companies specialised in accountancy, advertising, architecture, consultancy, legal services and surveying - together employing 4.6 million people across Britain.

AFP