In the wake of the second commons defeat for Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement on Tuesday 12th March, exasperated business leaders have called on MPs to categorically rule out a no-deal Brexit and to vote for an extension to Article 50.
Urging MPs to remove the threat of a no deal scenario ahead of tonight’s vote (Wed 13th March), Paul Everitt, chief executive of ADS Group – which represents the UK’s aerospace and defence industry said: “This deepening political crisis is causing real damage to UK industry, harming business investment and putting jobs at risk.”
His comments were echoed by Stephen Phipson CEO of Make UK, who branded parliament’s failure to deliver a workable plan a pantomime. “No deal would be disastrous for UK manufacturing and its 2.7 million jobs”, he said. “The government and Parliament must act collectively, swiftly and decisively in the best interest of the people and the economy. The time for theatre is over.”
As we teeter on the brink of the cliff edge confidence in our political leaders is almost gone
However, confidence that the UK’s politicians will be capable of doing this is apparently at an all-time low. “Tonight’s result is another body blow for the country and the UK’s largest manufacturing sector,” said Food and Drink Federation chief executive Ian Wright. “As we teeter on the brink of the cliff edge, just seventeen days’ away, confidence in our political leaders is almost gone.”
Meanwhile, automotive industry trade body SMMT – which has been one of the most vocal opponents to Brexit, reiterated its concerns for the sector. “No-deal would be catastrophic for the automotive industry,” said SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes. “It would end frictionless trade, add billions to the cost of manufacturing and cost jobs. UK automotive businesses will be put at immediate risk. Parliament must reject no-deal and take it permanently off the table.”
Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI director-general, called for a new approach from all parties. “This must be the last day of failed politics,” she said. “Conservatives must consign their red lines to history, while Labour must come to the table with a genuine commitment to solutions. It’s time for Parliament to stop this circus.”
Sounding an equally exasperated note, Edwin Morgan, interim director general of the Institute of Directors, said: “Our politicians have yet again failed to find a way to break the impasse. They are becoming adept at saying what they don’t want, but it’s still hard to see where the desire for compromise lies.”
Morgan called on parliament to reject no-deal but warned that short extensions to article 50 with no clear plan will prolong the agony for business: “If an extension is sought, both the government and the opposition must state in precise terms what they are hoping to achieve from it. Recurring short extensions aren’t an appetising prospect for businesses.”
In the meantime, critics have slammed the government’s no deal tariff plans (announced today) which would see 87 per cent of goods entering the UK facing zero tariffs.
Describing the plan as “disgraceful”, FDF’s Ian Wright said that businesses would be unable to adapt to the new regime in just two weeks.
Make UK’s Stephen Phipson welcomed the government’s step back from its initial suggestion of a blanket zero per cent tariff on all goods but said that the plan would still be damaging. “While some industries are now protected, the overall effect will still be decimating for our sector as a whole,” he said.
Meanwhile, Unite assistant general secretary for manufacturing Steve Turner accused Theresa May’s government of economic vandalism. “Reducing tariffs to zero on the majority of imports, including steel, in the event of a no deal Brexit would destroy jobs and leave UK manufacturers competing with both hands tied behind their backs,” he said.