Business groups urge Johnson to continue Brexit talks as he tells them to ‘prepare for a no-deal’

October 16, 2020

Firms will ‘despair’ over Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s comments today that they should prepare for a no-deal Brexit, the region’s biggest business organisation said.

Describing the move as “another period of political theatre”, Business West managing director Phil Smith said firms across the West of England were already under unprecedented pressure from the impact of Covid-19 and the additional pain it put on the economy and firms’ own financial positions. 

“We know that this is making it harder for companies to prepare for Brexit, and cope with the additional turmoil that having a no-deal outcome would create,” he said

Business West, which runs the Swindon & Wiltshire Initiative, has urged the government to avoid a no-deal scenario since it emerged as a possible outcome following the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Such an outcome, it has argued, would be devastating for the regional economy and pile new costs onto business just as they were trying to cope with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Today No 10 Downing Street accused the EU of effectively ending the talks on a trade deal. While observers of the long-running Brexit negotiations are used to strong words from both sides, the latest comments seem to significantly escalate the rhetoric.

Describing today’s comments from the Prime Minister as a disappointing position for the UK government to take, Mr Smith said there was a widespread expectation among business audiences that a trade agreement with Europe was within reach and that it just required “level-headed leadership” to achieve a final deal.

He added: “[Firms] will despair at yet another period of political theatre, which only heightens uncertainty, when what we need is further negotiations to settle what is a centrally important trading relationship for both sides.

“It is time for both sides to stop the dramatics, get a deal and set out the details to allow businesses to adapt. Time in no longer on our side.”

The CBI called on leaders on both sides to stay at the table and find a route through.

Director-general Dame Carolyn Fairbairn said: “After four years of negotiations and so many hurdles crossed, this is no time to give up.

“Neither side can afford to fall at the final fence. A deal is the only outcome that protects Covid-hit livelihoods at a time when every job in every country counts.

“Businesses are clear on the benefits of a deal. Agreement brings the clarity needed for urgent preparations. Maximising customs cooperation will minimise red tape. A deal will bolster implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol and safeguard investment critical for future jobs.

“It will also make fast agreement on data possible, so vital for the UK’s 80% services economy.

“With tenacity, common sense and compromise, a deal is still possible.”

The Prime Minister was expected to give a press conference this afternoon on his stance.

In a televised statement this morning he said given there were only 10 weeks left until the transition period ended, he had to make a judgment about the likely outcome and to prepare the country.

“I concluded that we should get ready for 1 January with arrangements that are more like Australia’s – based on simple principles of global free trade,” he said.

“So, we have high hearts, and with complete confidence we will prepare to embrace the alternative and we will prosper mightily as an independent free-trading nation, controlling our own borders, our fisheries and setting our own laws.”

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