Brexit secretary claims businesses back PM's EU deal on Peterborough visit - but city business chief raises fears of recruiting workers

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The Brexit Secretary claimed businesses are giving their backing to the Prime Minister's EU deal on a visit to Peterborough today, but concerns have been raised that firms will not get the workers they need.

Steve Barclay was one of 30 ministers deployed across the country today to try and raise support for the withdrawal agreement that is due to be voted on in Parliament on Tuesday.

North East Cambridgeshire MP Mr Barclay, whose constituency covers Fenland, visited global engineering firm Peter Brotherhood in Papyrus Road where he spoke to staff before answering questions from the media.

Journalists present were allowed to ask two questions each on Brexit.

Leave voter Mr Barclay, who was elevated to role of Brexit Secretary last month following the resignation of his predecessor Dominic Raab, insisted that businesses are in favour of the withdrawal agreement, despite MPs expected to vote it down on Tuesday.

He said: "The deal that the Prime Minister's secured is really important for businesses such as manufacturing businesses. The supply of goods, the certainty of investment and having confidence to grow their markets is really key.

Brexit minister Stephen Barclay talking to Jerry Rackham at Peter Brotherhood

Brexit minister Stephen Barclay talking to Jerry Rackham at Peter Brotherhood

"That's a key message I've taken away from chatting with staff and chatting with the management. They want this deal, they want confidence to invest. They have exciting plans to grow the business around the world and this is a deal that brings them that certainty and confidence.

"If the deal doesn't go ahead we risk a period of uncertainty and that is bad for business and bad for jobs. The deal the Prime Minister has secured enables us to have that global free trade policy, but it does so in a way that allows us to continue that supply of goods and that close relationship with Europe as our largest trading partner."

Asked by the Peterborough Telegraph how the Government would be able to bring immigration down to under 100,000 a year as promised, but still make sure Peterborough businesses have the skilled workers they need, he replied: "This is about having a skills based immigration system so we get the people the economy needs rather than simply basing it on the nationality from where people are coming.

"It's right that we have control of our immigration and a system based on people's skills that allows us to attract the best talent from around the world and allows us to attract the doctors and nurses our NHS needs."

Mr Barclay also highlighted the Government's industrial strategy, its attempts to boost apprenticeships and investment in technology and the skills of staff as other ways to make sure businesses had enough skilled workers.

But chief executive of the Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce, and the Peterborough Chamber of Commerce, John Bridge said he was concerned post-Brexit European workers would face the same constraints as non-Europeans who are required to have a minimum income before coming to the UK.

Mr Bridge highlighted a current difficulty to recruit chefs for Indian restaurants as an example.

He added: "We are concerned about being able to recruit the right people and being able to do it quickly enough. One of the things we have wanted to try and do was to get the Government to licence companies to be able to bring people in and take responsibility for them, but we did not get very far.

"Businesses want uninterrupted trade and the agreement gives them uninterrupted trade. But there are some significant concerns from business regarding the detail of it. That actually what we are doing is handing over the control to people who can make the decisions impacting us but we are not at the top table and able to contribute to what's actually going to happen.

"Anything that actually tries to appease everybody upsets everybody."

Meanwhile, Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald, deputy leader of Peterborough City Council and chair of the Peterborough Conservative Association, has co-signed a letter which calls for an “immediate” end to using party funds in support of a "propaganda campaign" to get MPs to back the proposed deal.

This is in relation to leaflets and postcards aimed at encouraging voters to lobby Conservative MPs in favour of the withdrawal agreement.

On his visit to Peter Brotherhood Conservative MP Mr Barclay insisted that the EU deal would deliver on what a majority of his constituents had voted for in the 2016 referendum.

He said: "My constituency voted to Leave. I myself support Leave. In any constituency you always get a range of views. One of the key things you hear from people is that it's been a divisive time. Even people's families often voted in different ways.

"We've had two years of hard fought negotiations where the Prime Minister has been out there battling for the best deal. It's the only deal, and it's now time for the country to come together to get on with it. Chatting with the management here they've very keen for the deal to go ahead. They want to grow the business, they want the certainty that the deal brings."

Asked what would happen if MPs vote down the deal, he added: "Ministers are out there making the case, and what we are hearing from business is how important it is this deal does get through. The alternative is we are going to move into unchartered waters and uncertainty which is bad for people's jobs, is bad for our security.

"People want this deal. That is the case the cabinet is making. We are committed to ensuring the vote does go through."

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