Polman had warned about impact on economy of UK leaving EU

Polman had warned about impact on economy of UK leaving EU

Unilever CEO Paul Polman, last year one of the food industry's more vocal advocates for the UK to stay in the EU, was yesterday (20 July) set to lobby London for a Brexit transition deal in its talks with Brussels.

Polman, speaking after Unilever announced its half-year results but ahead of a trip to Downing Street to meet the UK government to discuss Brexit, said it could be difficult for the UK and the EU to reach a deal within the two-year time-frame set under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, under which a member state can leave the bloc. There are reportedly divisions within the UK government about whether the country should agree to transition measures, which could include retaining freedom of movement for a spell, post-Brexit.

"Increasingly, people have a broader realisation that the timeline that is put upon all of us under Article 50 might be a little bit of a tight timeline for all the things that need to be accomplished," Polman said. "We will be talking about the possibilities of longer transition periods that I think more and more people have started to talk about - and that I've always mentioned from day one. That is becoming more realistic now."

This week, the UK and the EU met in Brussels for the first week of substantive talks on Brexit. The EU's chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, said the UK still needed to make its position clearer on the bill London must pay Brussels to depart. UK officials have been complaining about an apparent lack of flexibility among their EU counterparts.

The terms of the financial package the UK has to settle up on its departure from the EU is chief among a number of issues upon which there needs to be an agreement before the two sides can discuss a trade deal.

Speaking to reporters, Unilever's Polman, who argued during the Brexit referendum campaign a UK departure would hit the country's economy and put jobs in jeopardy, said it was imperative a trade deal was discussed as quickly as possible.

"We really have been fairly clear on what our position has been but I've also always said now we need to be constructively looking at the best options for the UK and this is what we are starting to discuss," Polman said.

"There's no doubt the quicker we can get some of the initial issues out of the way - like the financial arrangements, the citizens' rights, the issue of Ireland - the quicker we can focus on the trade relations side. This is all about protecting the economy and jobs in Britain and ensuring we can continue to grow. Periods of uncertainty don't help."