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Shell urges continued free trade and free movement of people post-Brexit

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Emily Gosden, energy editor: 30 JUNE 2016 • 7:02PM

Royal Dutch Shell has urged the UK to retain free trade and free movement of people with the EU in the wake of Brexit.

Ben van Beurden, the oil giant’s chief executive, said it was not yet clear how Shell would be affected by Britain leaving the EU and he was concerned by the prospect of a period of change and uncertainty. 

“It’s crucial that European governments will keep now a steady hand on the tiller of the economy in what will be probably unprecedented, unpredictable circumstances for some time to come,” he said.

Speaking at an event in London, Mr van Beurden, who backed the Remain campaign, stressed the link between the EU single market and Britain’s economic prosperity. 

“Shell has always been clear about the benefits of the single market and free movement of people, both for the UK and the EU as a whole,” he said.

“I hope that the future relationship between the UK and the rest of Europe will continue to provide the right conditions for economic growth.

“We believe in the power and the relevance of free trade and free movement of people.”

Mr van Beurden declined to say whether the Anglo-Dutch company’s structure and UK operations could be affected if trade and movement barriers were imposed, but said Shell’s status as a UK plc domiciled for tax purposes in the Netherlands made it a “natural advocate for a very integrated UK in the EU”.

“We will have to see what sort of a relationship the UK and the EU will end up with in the medium term,” he said. “Hopefully that is a relationship that will be founded on free trade, low tariffs, integration of regulation still, and therefore one that really doesn’t make too much difference for the business environment.”

Mr van Beurden stressed that it would not make any immediate changes in light of the vote, and did not foresee “major changes” in its commitment to the UK.

“We will still continue to invest in the UK, we still have a $4bn investment programme we need to complete by 2018. We will still provide energy in the UK, we will still employ people in the UK. So in the short run of course nothing will change,” he said.

“I think the big question that everybody has is: what will happen next? And I think in all honesty we cannot say with any great certainty or clarity what the end result of all this will be.

“We will be, inevitably, in period of wait-and-see, hoping to have a good outcome from an economic perspective. But until that is clear, it is very, very hard to predict what will happen.”

Mr van Beurden also used his speech to reiterate his disappointment at the UK Government’s decision last year to pull funding for its £1bn carbon capture and storage (CCS) competition, in which Shell’s Peterhead project was the frontrunner. 

He said CCS was crucial if the world wanted to meet its goal of keeping global warming to less than 2C.

“I think CCS needs to be part of the solution. Without CCS I am absolutely convinced that we cannot stay within the 2C limit we have set,” he said. “It can only happen if it’s either going to be mandated or made attractive by the Government.”

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