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UK business cautiously welcomes Brexit extension

By AFP - Apr 11,2019 - Last updated at Apr 14,2019

British Prime Minister Theresa May leaves after a news conference following an extraordinary European Union leaders summit to discuss Brexit, in Brussels, Belgium, on Thursday (Reuters photo)

LONDON — British business on Thursday gave a cautious welcome to yet another Brexit extension — but also urged an end to the "chaos" that has plagued the country’s withdrawal from the European Union.

European leaders have agreed with British Prime Minister Theresa May to delay Brexit until October 31 at the latest, saving the continent from a chaotic no-deal departure on Friday.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI), which is the country's biggest employers' organisation, said that the overnight development avoids a messy no-deal "crisis".

However, the influential lobby group also called for May to end Brexit uncertainty and seek cross-party consensus on the way forward.

"This new extension means imminent economic crisis has been averted, but it needs to mark a fresh start," said CBI director-general, Carolyn Fairbairn.

"For the good of jobs and communities across the country, all political leaders must use the time well. 

"Sincere cross-party collaboration must happen now to end this chaos."

The CBI chief's remarks were echoed by Catherine McGuinness, policy chair at the City of London Corporation, a local government authority for the capital's powerful financial district.

"Day by day, as uncertainty persists, so does the threat of more businesses moving jobs and operations away from the UK," she said.

"It is vital that politicians in the UK and EU come together."

The deal struck during late night talks in Brussels means that, if London remains in the EU after May 22, British voters will have to take part in European elections — or crash out on June 1.

The British premier was given until October 31 to pass her withdrawal deal for leaving the bloc through parliament, having failed three times already to do so.

 

'Devastating precipice' in October 

 

UK car industry body the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) repeated its call for no-deal to be removed from the picture.

"Government and parliament must use this extension purposefully to take no-deal off the table for good, and guarantee a positive long-term resolution that delivers frictionless trade," said SMMT head Mike Hawes.

"If they fail, we face yet another devastating no-deal precipice on 31 October."

Adam Marshall, director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce which represents thousands of firms, said businesses remain frustrated at the lengthy process — almost three years after Britons voted to leave the EU.

"With less than 48 hours to go, the prospect of a messy and disorderly exit on Friday has again been averted," Marshall said.

"Businesses will be relieved — but their frustration with this seemingly endless political process is palpable."

CBI’s president, John Allan, also sounded a cautious note, saying companies would continue to bear the cost of holding extra stock in case of further turmoil.

"This isn't a definitive extension," Allan told BBC Radio 4.

"The cost of holding all that additional inventory will continue."

Allan called on politicians to start thinking about the national interest and added that a second referendum might be needed if politicians cannot break the impasse.

"My personal view is if the politicians can't get their act together... the only other option is to go back to the people and have a second referendum."

Earlier this month, the CBI joined forces with union leaders in an unusual alliance to warn May that Britain faced a "national emergency" over a no-deal Brexit.

The CBI and union umbrella organisation the Trades Union Congress had urged May to change tack and find a "Plan B" to avert a no-deal departure.

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