Brexit conference marks publication of report


Brexit – the Voices of European Business

 Conference and Dinner London, September 2017

To mark the publication of the report, Brexit – the Voices of European Business, and help make senior diplomats, business leaders and government officials aware of the findings, we held an event on 25 September 2017 at the offices of Hogan Lovells in central London.

Guests were welcomed to the conference by David Thomas MBE, Executive Chairman of COBCOE. The report was introduced by Olivier Campenon, President of the Franco-British Chamber of Commerce and Industry, highlighting the three key themes that had emerged from the research. 

Two panel discussions followed, moderated by John Peet, Political Editor of The Economist. The first looked at how large corporates would manage Brexit, focusing on access to talent, finance and capital markets, R&D and ease of access for supply chains, while the second considered the practical implications for SMEs.

First panel, representing corporates: 

·      Lourdes Catrain, Partner, International Trade, Hogan Lovells,

·      Dr Karl-Peter Horstmann, Head of Markets Regulation, RWE Supply & Trading GmbH,

·      Ernesto Sicilia, Chairman and Managing Director at Trenitalia UK, and

·      – Larry Stone, President, Group Public and Government Affairs, BT

Panel members echoed concerns that had been raised in the report about the lack of time, the uncertainty, the resources being devoted to Brexit and the potential disruption. Asked whether a transition period would deal with the uncertainty, it was felt that the timing was still very tight indeed. 

The panel also discussed moving people in and out of the single market, the current state of negotiations and what may need to happen for a breakthrough (the event was soon after Theresa May’s speech in Florence, at which she announced a transition period, a payment to the EU and concessions on citizens’ rights). The role of regulation and the European Court of Justice was also discussed, with questions from the floor covering a range of issues, including possible reputational and relationship damage to the UK and whether business had spoken up sufficiently before the referendum. 

Second panel, representing SMEs:

·      Alexander Bargum, CEO, Algol Oy

·      Nicolas Georghiades, COO, Alison Hayes Romania SRL

·      Larry Murrin, CEO, Dawn Farm Foods

This panel looked at the practicalities and costs of Brexit, with trade barriers being a particular issue. Members outlined how their particular businesses worked across borders in both production and sales.

It was mentioned that Britain is only 52% self sufficient in food, and so the UK’s ability to find such a large supply from elsewhere in the world at short notice was questioned. The return of a hard border in Ireland was not welcomed. 

In conclusion, it was noted that while higher costs could be borne by consumers within the EU, they could cause Europe’s global trading position to weaken. In addition, there would not be sufficient time to develop new technology to allow frictionless trade as mentioned in the UK Government’s position papers., Ideas for the next stage of COBCOE’s Brexit Ambition project were put forward, such as producing more specific recommendations and creating an infrastructure to help support SMEs through the changes.

The conference was followed by a reception with an address by Charles Brasted, Partner at Hogan Lovells, and a formal dinner.

COBCOE is grateful to John Peet for moderating the conference, to the panellists for contributing to the debate and sharing their experiences, and to Hogan Lovells for hosting the event.

Read more about COBCOE's Brexit Ambition project and report

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