Leaders of the UK's major business groups – most of whom had actively campaigned for a 'remain' vote in Thursday's referendum of EU membership – accepted the Brexit vote with glum resignation on Thursday.
Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, described the outcome as "a momentous turning point in our history
". She added, "The country has spoken and it’s for us all to listen."
Ms Fairbairn said that companies would be "concerned" at the prospect of a Brexit and needed time to assess the implications.
"But," she continued, "they are used to dealing with challenge and change and we should be confident they will adapt. The urgent priority now is to reassure the markets. We need strong and calm leadership from the government, working with the Bank of England, to shore up confidence and stability in the economy.
“The choices we make over the coming months will affect generations to come. This is not a time for rushed decisions."
Simon Walker, director-general of the Institute of Directors, said that, while the 'leave' vote was not the result most IoD members wanted, it was now imperative that political leaders managed the transition as smoothly as possible.
"The weeks and months ahead are going to be a nervy time for business leaders," he said, "so they have to know that the government is focused on maintaining stability while a new relationship with the EU is established.
“British businesses are resilient and, with their characteristic ingenuity, they will weather this storm. It is now beholden on politicians to negotiate a deal with European leaders which preserves the ability of British firms to trade easily with the remaining member states.
"Even once we have left, the EU will continue to be our biggest trading partner, and the first destination for many companies when they start to export. One thing the government must do immediately is to guarantee the right to remain of EU citizens currently in the UK. Companies do not want to have to worry about losing valued staff.”
Before the referendum, a survey of IoD members revealed that, despite concerns about the effect of Brexit on trade and access to skills, businesses leaders saw potential improvements to employment regulations, with half of directors believing the UK could be an economic success outside of the EU.
Terry Scuoler, CEO of the manufacturers' organisation EEF, set out key priorities for negotiations with remaining EU members. They included the maintenance of tariff-free access to the EU market for goods and services, regulatory stability, the continued ability to address the UK skills gap, and an integrated domestic policy to support investment, competitiveness and export performance.
He said, "Ahead of the referendum, our members – many of which are prolific exporters – were clear that they saw a stronger, brighter future if Britain remained in the EU. The country has collectively decided that it wants to leave the EU. It is not the result many businesses wanted, but it is the democratic will of our country and will quite rightly now be acted upon.
"It is already clear that the decision has caused a shock – sterling has dropped and the markets are volatile. Against this backdrop, it is vital that we regain stability and restore calm. David Cameron’s resignation speech today could have sparked more concerns, but his speech was pitched to strike the right note of reassurance (as was that of the governor of the Bank of England), providing a timetable and showing the leadership style that will help to stabilise the economy, reassure the markets and shore-up business confidence.
"Business will play a critical role in Britain’s ongoing success. My sector – manufacturing – is naturally creative, versatile and determined. These are all qualities that will help us to adapt to this brave new world, and also qualities that will help make this step into the unknown a success."
Dr Adam Marshall, acting director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, added, "In the wake of the electorate's historic decision to leave the European Union, the immediate priorities for UK business are market stability and political clarity.
"Some business people will be pleased with the result, and others resigned to it. Yet all companies will expect swift, decisive and coordinated action from the government and the Bank of England to stabilise markets if trading conditions or the availability of capital change dramatically.
"Firms across the UK want an immediate and unambiguous statement from the prime minister on next steps, along with a clear timeline for the UK's exit from the European Union.
"Business will also want to see a detailed plan to support the economy during the coming transition period – as confidence, investment, hiring and growth would all be deeply affected by a prolonged period of uncertainty. If ever there were a time to ditch the straight-jacket of fiscal rules for investment in a better business infrastructure, this is it.
"Businesses need action to maintain economic stability, a timeline for exit, and answers to their many practical, real-world questions about doing business during and after this historic transition.
"Firms want help to get Britain back to business at a time of great uncertainty. The health of the economy must be the number one priority – not the Westminster political post-mortem.”
Read analysis of what the vote to leave the EU may mean for for the global mobility industry in Brexit is a reality – a new era for global mobility? by Relocate Global's managing editor, Fiona Murchie.
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