What now? Businesses react to Brexit vote

Date: 16 January 2019

What now? Businesses react to Brexit voteUK business groups have expressed their concerns about a potential no-deal Brexit after Parliament rejected the government's proposed withdrawal agreement.

"There are no more words to describe the frustration, impatience and growing anger amongst business after two and a half years on a high-stakes political rollercoaster ride that shows no sign of stopping," said Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC).

"The overriding priority for both government and Parliament must now be to avoid the clear danger that a no-deal exit on the 29th of March would pose to businesses and communities across the UK. Every second that ticks by sees more businesses spending money on unwanted changes, activating contingency plans or battening down the hatches and halting investment, as they try to anticipate a future that is no clearer now than it was at the time of the referendum result."

With the clock ticking, said Marshall, "businesses will take a dim view of more shuttle diplomacy and last-minute bargaining, which have so far done nothing to end the political impasse. The government must now urgently set out in concrete terms what it will do to avoid the damage that a messy and disorderly exit on March 29th would cause to businesses, communities, and the UK economy."

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Mike Cherry, chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said: "It is time for politicians to come together and urgently find a way forward from this alarming Brexit stalemate … the UK is due to leave the EU in just ten weeks, and yet businesses still have no idea what kind of circumstances they should prepare for.

"Small business confidence has plummeted to its lowest point since the wake of the financial crash. Four in ten expect performance to worsen over this quarter, two-thirds are not planning to increase capital investment, and a third see lack of the right skills as a barrier to growth. That's what political uncertainty does to business: it makes it impossible to plan, innovate and expand."

Stephen Martin, director general of the Institute of Directors (IoD), described the impasse as a "collective failure of our political leaders". He said: "As things stand, UK law says we will leave on 29th March, with or without a withdrawal agreement, and yet MPs are behaving as though they have all the time in the world - how are businesses meant to prepare in this fog of confusion? The reality is that MPs will still need to find a way to put aside their differences and come to an agreement."

All of the UK's leading business groups have made it clear that leaving the EU without a deal would be extremely damaging for the UK economy.

"Every business will feel no deal is hurtling closer," warned Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI director general. "A new plan is needed immediately. This is now a time for our politicians to make history as leaders. All MPs need to reflect on the need for compromise and to act at speed to protect the UK's economy."

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