SHADOW Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer has met with businesses from across the North West in Ramsbottom, to discuss their concerns surrounding the UK’s exit of the European Union.

At the Red Hall Hotel Sir Keir told the Bury Times that those attending had expressed “a growing sense of uncertainty about what lies ahead”. 

He added that the Government’s inability to command a Parliamentary majority over Brexit was making businesses “very anxious” as they plan for the future.

Organised by Bury North MP James Frith, the meeting was attended by representatives from the Chamber of Commerce, Federation of Small Businesses and universities.

The Shadow Brexit Secretary delivered an update on upcoming Brexit legislation passing through Parliament and process of leaving the EU as well as discussing the Opposition’s position and aims, before fielding questions.  

Speaking after the meeting, Sir Keir said: “It’s very important for me in my role as Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the EU that I’m out across the different regions, the different areas talking to businesses and communities about what concerns them about Brexit. 

“Some specific concerns came out from business in the region and they were about, on the one hand, manufacturing. 

“There are businesses here that are selling into the European market and very concerned that we don’t have two sets of rules so that they don’t have to do everything twice over. 

“If you’re a small or medium sized business it is a huge increase in bureaucracy.

“There was concern that some EU citizens who are working in local businesses are now departing for home. It’s harder to recruit staff, we heard about an increasing need to go through agencies because it’s impossible to get the staff that are needed.

“But there was also a powerful plea on behalf of the service industry, and the services that are provided through companies locally, that their voice is not being heard in all of this. 

“And we were reminded in stark terms that 80 per cent of the economy is, of course, services. 

“You can see that they are, on the one hand, national issues but they are here in the local business as real concerns.”

Turning to the warnings issued last week that Britain’s exit from the EU may lead to shortages in food and medicines, Sir Keir said that Government rhetoric on stockpiling such items had prompted horror from those he had spoken to.

He said: “If the Prime Minister or the Government think they are comforting people by telling them that they have got plans for stock piling then they have got another thing coming, because everyone I have spoken to is not comforted by the idea of stockpiling food, they’re horrified. 

“They expect much more from this Government than suggestions of stockpiling food. The very idea that we’re having that discussion I think shows you just how much of a mess the Government is in.”

Sir Keir also said that Labour would not be calling for a second referendum on Brexit, but was pushing for a vote on the final deal in Parliament.

He said: “What the Labour Party has said is that it is not acceptable for the Prime Minister to decide for herself, or just within her cabinet, what deal we will have with the EU.

“It has got to be decided collectively in Parliament through a meaningful vote, and we have focussed on that. So we have not called for a second referendum. 

“If the Prime Minister brings back an Article 50 deal that doesn’t have the confidence of Parliament, or worse fails to reach an agreement, that would be a catastrophic failure of the negotiations and Parliament should decide what happens next. 

“It seems to me that the Prime Minister would have no authority to continue but we would want to keep all options on the table at that stage.”   

Speaking about Sir Keir’s visit, James Frith said that is is important that Bury’s voice, as a strong leave-voting constituency, is heard in Parliament, and by party bosses, and “that the appetite to leave is understood”.

Mr Frith added: “We are running out of road on the process of Brexit and there will be a coming together or a collision if the Prime Minister is unable to get her deal through the House.

“Its really important that we have the chance not just to engage in the meaningful conversation and meetings we have had in Westminster, but that Keir has lived and breathed in the constituency for a time, to give some of that insight into of daily life in Bury.”

Sir Keir also praised Mr Firth for his efforts in ensuring Bury’s voice is heard on Brexit, adding: “James has been a really powerful advocate for his constituency in Parliament. 

“Not just in the chamber but also through making sure that I have properly understood what the issues are for his constituents and that meetings are convened where my team listen to what James and others have got to say about Brexit.”