- Exclusive: Leading industry groups are set to make urgent public interventions about the risk of a no-deal Brexit if MPs vote down Theresa May’s deal next week.
- The Freight Transport Association is to demand a list of emergency “mini-deals” which the government must arrange with the EU before March 2019, covering truck permits, aviation and VAT.
- Another high-profile group is also planning an urgent statement, telling Business Insider: “If the deal falls next week we are in completely different territory and our response will reflect that.”
- The Federation of Small Businesses calls on the prime minister to consider extending Article 50.
- There is growing panic among business and industry figures about the looming spectre of a no-deal Brexit.
LONDON – The UK’s leading business and industry groups are set to make major public interventions on Brexit next week amid growing panic over the prospect of leaving the European Union without a deal.
Several of the country’s biggest groups are preparing urgent statements for the likely event of Theresa May’s Brexit deal with Brussels being voted down by MPs in the House of Commons next Tuesday.
Business and industry leaders are increasingly concerned about the prospect of a no-deal Brexit, despite new moves by MPs of all parties to deter the prime minister from contemplating it.
Business Insider has learnt that the Freight Transport Association – which represents UK logistic companies like those which carry goods from Dover to Europe – has prepared a list of emergency “mini-deals” which it will publicly call on the UK government to arrange with Brussels in order to limit the disruption of a no-deal scenario.
The FTA’s highest-priority demands are permits for UK truck drivers to travel to the EU, measures to prevent planes being grounded, and the avoidance of changes to VAT rules which would be particularly costly for small businesses.
“The government cannot sleep until we have these things by March 2019,” James Hookham, the FTA’s Deputy Chief Executive, told Business Insider.
He added: “I’m not going to let the logistics industry take the fall for political indulgence. It will be messy, expensive and not end well, and caused by people who suffer from ignorance or privilege. Or both.”
Another of the country’s biggest industry groups also confirmed it is planning a public intervention, with an insider telling BI: “If the deal falls next week we are in completely different territory and our response will reflect that.”
It will be messy, expensive and not end well, and caused by people who suffer from ignorance or privilege. Or both.
Other groups and trade associations are weighing up how they will respond to the prime minister’s deal being rejected.
A senior figure at another leading business group said that it was preparing for “the severity of the situation to increase significantly” next week.
The UK business community is preparing to “rise up with their pitchforks” next week if MPs vote to reject the Withdrawal Agreement next week, another source said.
Craig Beaumont, Head of External Affairs at the Federation of Small Businesses, told BI that while the FSB had not yet prepared an official response, the government should consider delaying Brexit if May’s deal falls on Tuesday.
“Whatever happens next, we want to avoid a chaotic no-deal on March 29 and secure the transition that we asked for and won from both sides. We can only get that with a deal,” he told BI.
“So in that scenario, an extension of Article 50 should be considered so a deal can be found.”
Virendra Sharma – Labour MP and supporter of anti-Brexit group Best For Britain – told BI: “I’m happy to say that businesses small and large across the country believe the prime minister’s deal is dead already that’s why it’s time for a second referendum with remain as an option.
“The Tories used to be the party of business, now they are the party of national disaster.”
The government declined Business Insider’s request for comment.
MPs across the House of Commons are mobilising to try and block the government from leaving the EU without a deal. On Tuesday night, MPs voted by 303-296 for an amendment tabled by Labour MP Yvette Cooper which will block the Treasury carrying out basic tasks like changing tax levels if it pursues a no-deal Brexit.
It followed growing pressure from within May’s Cabinet for her to rule out a no-deal.
Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd told a meeting of May’s Cabinet on Tuesday that history would take “a dim view” of the government if it allowed a no-deal Brexit to take place.
Business Secretary Greg Clark also became the first senior figure in May’s government to signal that he would resign if a no-deal Brexit were pursued.
Clark told MPs on Tuesday that leaving without a deal “should not be contemplated.”
“It is essential that we should be able to continue to trade,” Clark said. “It’s why I’ve always been clear, representing very strongly the views of small business and large business, that no-deal should not be contemplated.”
The government has repeatedly reassured MPs, businesses and the general public that the UK will be prepared to leave the EU without a Withdrawal Agreement in March should the Article 50 clock run down.
Last week, the Department for Transport assessed how quickly 89 lorries could reach the port of Dover from a make-shift holding park in Kent, as part of efforts to prevent huge queues of vehicles at the border.
Despite the work taking place, there is increasing worry among business and industry that government departments are not equipped to address the myriad complications that would arise from leaving the EU without a deal.
“With every new minister comes an ‘oh my god’ moment where they get their brief and realise what they are dealing with,” the FTA’s Hookham told BI.
The mayor of Ostend, Belgium yesterday cast doubt over UK plans to create a ferry route between the east coast of England and Ostend, saying that it will be “impossible” for the Belgian port to be ready in time for Brexit.
The plan was already under the spotlight after it emerged that the company hired by the UK government to oversee the new route owned no ships and had never operated a ferry service before.
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