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WTO deal would damage both UK and EU post-Brexit, business chief says

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Failure to strike a mutual partnership with the EU once Britain leaves the single market would be detrimental not only for the U.K. but businesses across Europe, the director general of the U.K.'s largest business organization has warned.

"Let's be under no illusion about what that would mean," CBI's Carolyn Fairbairn said of reverting to a WTO agreement or "no deal" between the U.K. and the EU.

"We know from French firms based in the UK and British firms based in the UK how damaging that would be."


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Speaking yesterday at a private event for French businesses hosted in London's French Residence, Fairbairn implored business leaders in the U.K. and across Europe to engage with government to ensure a fair new free trade agreement is made, adding that no deal would inevitably increase business costs and delay trading.

Fairbairn praised U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May's commitment, outlined in Davos last week, to ensuring the working rights of EU citizens working in the U.K. However, she also said that yesterday's U.K. Supreme Court ruling, which stated that the British government must seek approval from parliament before triggering Article 50 - a prerequisite to exiting the EU - provided an opportunity for further debate.

"Let's not take this opportunity for granted. Let's speak up as European businesses on both sides of the channel about why this access to people and to markets matters," said Fairbairn at the event, which was hosted by the French Chamber of Great Britain and Irwin Mitchell Private Wealth.

"We at CBI are completely clear on this: we believe an ambitious and comprehensive free trade agreement should be achieved. We think that it can be done to deliver a result that is in both our interests."

Fairbairn will be meeting with the director general of MEDEF (Mouvement des Entreprises de France), CBI's French counterpart, in Paris later today to discuss the future for businesses on both sides of the Channel and across Europe.

Currently, approximately 300,000 French nationals live and work in the U.K. and 3,000 French businesses operate in Britain. Since the creation of the EU's single market in 1993, trade between the U.K. and France has doubled.