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UK business lobby calls for improved EU links

LONDON, United Kingdom (AFP) — Britain’s business community called Thursday for whatever government emerges from the looming UK general election to improve relations with the European Union and lighten post-Brexit trade burdens.

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) issued the plea in a five-point “election manifesto” before the July 4 vote, also urging the completion of key trade deals.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, whose governing Conservatives took Britain out of the European Union in 2021, are far behind the opposition Labour party in opinion polls amid a cost-of-living crisis that critics argue has been exacerbated by Brexit.

“The (next) government must negotiate improved UK trading terms with our largest trading partner, the European Union, and complete the current pipeline of free trade negotiations including Switzerland, Gulf Co-operation Council, Turkey, and India,” the BCC said in a statement.

“A new focus on ensuring businesses large and small are getting the full benefits from trade deals current and new is needed from the government,” added the BCC, which represents thousands of companies across Britain.

The EU bloc accounts for about 42 percent of all British exports according to the BCC.

“The EU is the UK’s biggest market… Leaving the EU has made it more expensive and bureaucratic to sell our goods and services across the Channel,” added its director general Shevaun Haviland.

“But better trading terms are possible if the UK government and the EU reach an agreement in areas of mutual benefit for business in both markets.”

The BCC is also urging Britain’s incoming administration to boost green innovation, skills investment, reform business taxation, and appoint a government champion to oversee the cutting-edge artificial intelligence sector.

“The start of a new government, regardless of party or whatever coalition takes form, is a good moment for a reset,” said Haviland.

“It’s an opportunity to look forward and action the plan the country voted on.

“We have set out five priorities for immediate action to put in place the right policies and structures that will turn the flywheel of the economy so that business can step up and make the best of these opportunities,” she added.

Britain voted to leave the EU in a knife-edge 2016 referendum after Brexiteers, including former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, promised “sunlit uplands” of economic prosperity.

The UK economy however sank into recession in the second half of 2023, as elevated inflation sparked a cost-of-living crunch.