Belfast Telegraph

IoD chief warns post-Brexit special treatment policies for industries will fail

The Government has been warned by the new boss of the Institute of Directors that policies giving post-Brexit special treatment to industries such as car manufacturing are doomed to fail.

Stephen Martin, who became director general of the IoD in February, told the Press Association that Theresa May's administration must work for an "across the board" deal.

" It's difficult to do a 'pick winners' strategy, the Government isn't renowned for success in that, and y ou get bad outcomes from what we've seen in the past when there's interference.

"Any arrangement should be across the board, and w e'd encourage them to do something for the whole country and protect all industries," he said when asked about special Brexit assurances given to carmaker Nissan.

The Prime Minister is under pressure to extend those assurances to the rest of the UK car industry to help secure jobs at Vauxhall, which is posed for a takeover by Peugeot.

Thousands of jobs in the sector are at risk after Mrs May confirmed that she will extricate Britain from the EU's tariff-free single market.

On a wider level Mr Martin, who himself voted for Brexit, also urged the Government to reject protectionism and ensure that British businesses are not forced to operate under World Trade Organisation rules once the country leaves the EU.

"We don't want to see protectionism come back, some of the rhetoric we've seen is concerning.

"We don't want to see any barriers, we fundamentally believe free trade is good for the country, so don't want to see anything that interferes with that.

"Our members want an effective and free trade agreement with Europe, and one that doesn't fall back under WTO rules.

"We want a deal that is comprehensive and effective and our members are more concerned with getting that than the actual time frame, even if it takes a bit longer."

The Northern Irishman said that, from a personal standpoint, he voted to Leave because of the amount of EU regulations and because he felt the country was "crying out for change" following the banking crisis.

However, he admitted that he and the IoD's members are seriously concerned that Brexit could result in a smaller pool of workers to recruit from.

"Our members are very concerned that the country is not anti-immigration, that we're not closed to EU workers.

"We must welcome workers from all over the world and we want to have the right skills in the UK - it's absolutely fundamental," he said.

Looking ahead to this week's budget, Mr Martin said that at the top of his wish list is a total revamp of the business rates system, adding his voice to the chorus of business leaders urging the Chancellor to implement reform.

"Business rates have a massive impact throughout the country, it's not just an issue for London and south east. There is an unfair advantage for online retailers, how can that be right?

"The best scenario is the whole thing is looked at by a new tax commission."

The Conservatives faced a major backlash after embarking on the first business rates revaluation since 2010, resulting in crippling hikes in bills for thousands of struggling firms, although the Government is expected to take action to mitigate its impact in this week's Budget.

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