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Israeli firms fear Brexit impact on UK trade

More than 300 Israeli companies operate in Britain

    Israeli companies operating in Britain have outlined their concerns over trade and investment prospects following Brexit.

    A major survey of foreign business leaders in this country included 17 Israeli companies.

    Trade between Britain and Israel has been at record levels in recent years, but the Israeli firms’ responses painted a negative outlook, with 65 per cent saying they were “not very confident” that the government would secure a good deal by the time the UK leaves the EU in March 2019.

    They said their priorities for the negotiations included finding a solution to allow companies to have access to the European single market for goods and services.

    Hugo Bieber, chief executive of the UK Israel Business (UKIB) group, said: “The survey shows there is still a lot of work to be done to reassure on Britain’s Brexit readiness and to lock-in record trade levels.”

    A delegation of 35 UK business leaders from around 30 companies will travel to Israel this month to discuss strategies for dealing with Britain’s departure from the EU.

    Theresa May and Benjamin Netanyahu set up a working group to discuss multi-billion pound trade between the two countries in February. Mr Bieber said that body was “a sign of the importance attached to these opportunities by the British and Israeli governments”.

    More than 300 Israeli companies operate in Britain, with 28 firms listed on the London Stock Exchange worth almost £11 billion.

    The Israeli views were in line with those expressed by French, German and American businesses involved in the poll. It was carried out by Ipsos Mori with 1,046 members of 13 foreign chambers of commerce during October, with the results published on Wednesday.

    Almost a quarter – 24 per cent – of the Israeli firms said Brexit would have “no effect either way” on their plans.

    But asked about the prospects for future investment in the next five to 10 years, 65 per cent expressed negativity, with just six per cent saying they were “very positive”.

    While one-third reported no impact from Brexit on their business so far, another third said there had been a “fairly negative” effect.

    Mr Bieber said it was “vital” for Britain to remain the leading country for Israeli direct investment in Europe.

    “We need to make sure the Brexit process does not create barriers to new opportunities,” he added. “The UK is a great place for Israeli investment, as shown by 32 Israeli firms opening in the UK since [the referendum], investing £152m and creating 888 jobs.”

    He said the UKIB wanted the government and European Commission to provide four reassurances during the Brexit negotiations: a framework for a smooth transition and ongoing access to the EU market; a visa system for Israeli skilled workers to come to Britain; a comprehensive UK-Israel trade deal; and a “rapid and straightforward” customs process for importers and exporters.

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