Tunbridge Wells MP Greg Clark denies mounting 'project fear' over Brexit
3rd July 2018
As the Brexit debate gets even hotter, Tunbridge Wells MP Greg Clark finds himself in the firing line, in his position as Business Secretary, as he appears to lead the call for the softest of possible exits.
Sections of the mainstream media have accused him of mounting 'Project Fear - Mark 2' after businesses such as Airbus warned of the dire consequences of the delay in reaching decisions on trade with the EU.
And during a TV interview this week Mr Clark hinted the Brexit transition could be extended in a decision that could leave the UK tied to the EU for years.
He insisted that whether transition ends on schedule at the end of 2020 should be 'guided by the facts and evidence'.
Mr Clark warned that ports such as Dover had to be fully ready before Britain fully moves into the post-Brexit future to avoid chaos on the borders.
Port operators have said they can build new customs systems in time - but only if a trade deal defining the rules is in place by Brexit day in March 2019.
This newspaper asked Mr Clark what he make of suggestions, reported in the Telegraph, that he has in fact been participating in 'Project Fear - Mark 2'?
Quite the opposite. To get the best deal possible we need to be advised by the people with the best experience of trading with the EU. So it makes complete sense to make sure that we have taken into account the practical requirements of businesses who employ millions of people in our country.
You are quoted in the Times national newspaper as saying: 'The future of every country depends on successful business. We must take action on the advice from business and in my view the business voice puts evidence first before ideology.' Are your views being taken seriously by the Government?
Yes. For example, businesses big and small were clear to me that we need a transitional period rather than a sudden 'cliff edge' next March. I argued for that in Cabinet. It was listened to, became part of government policy and was subsequently agreed with the EU.
These views don't appear in-line with Boris Johnson's who is reported to have said 'fxxx business'. Have you spoken to him about his comment?
I strongly disagree with what Boris Johnson said. It is not the view of the Government and have said so both publicly and privately.
Is the Cabinet divided over this issue?
Everyone knows that there is a range of views in the Cabinet on what would be the best deal for Britain - just as there is in all parties and in the country. That's why you have Cabinet meetings and debates in Parliament - to work through the alternatives and come to an agreement.
You have called on Theresa May to go further than a final Brexit deal that replicated the single market - and to also include services in future arrangements. How likely is this?
Many jobs depend on the ability to supply services to clients across Europe. For example when Rolls Royce sells an aeroplane engine, it makes most of its money not from manufacturing the engine itself but from servicing it during its lifetime operation.
So of course we need to make sure that Rolls Royce engineers can continue to visit other countries to carry out this service work. I'm convinced that it will be possible to agree this.
What message do you have for Tunbridge Wells businesses who may have concerns with Brexit?
I am doing everything I can to ensure that we reach a good deal that will allow Tunbridge Wells businesses to succeed. It was always inevitable that following the referendum there would be a period of uncertainty about the outcome of the negotiations while they took place. But that uncertainty is temporary and the things that make us a great place to set up and do business in are still here.
Have Tunbridge Wells firms approached you with Brexit concerns? Could we see any companies leaving town?
Tunbridge Wells businesses, like Tunbridge Wells people, are not shy about what's on their minds! We talk at my regular surgeries, at visits I make to businesses, at local business get togethers and when I meet people in the street.
Their advice as to what they need to help them continue to prosper is invaluable to me both in representing their interests and informing my role as Business Secretary.
You spoke this week at a national business conference. Could we see you addressing local firms in a similar way?
I often speak at conferences of local businesses, such as the West Kent Chamber of Commerce a few weeks ago and at other local business events. It's an important part of my work as a constituency MP and, since I have been Business Secretary, helps inform my national role.