Lord Edmiston of the IM Group and Rick Bestwick discuss Brexit uncertainty as May denies "deal or delay" Brexit position
Theresa May has sought to downplay news, originally reported on ITV, that the government’s Brexit strategy has shifted toward a choice between her deal and the extension of Article 50. We spoke to Lord Edmiston of the IM Group and Colin Taylor, CEO of Rick Bestwick, to assess the reaction of business leaders to these new developments.
Olly Robbins, the chief negotiator for the UK, was overheard in Brussels saying that MPs would have to choose between a tweaked version of the existing deal or a lengthy delay to Brexit.
ITV News have reported that Robbins also stated that the EU will “probably just give us an extension”, extending Article 50 and delaying the date the UK leaves the European Union.
Since this news has broken, May and her ministers have been quick to downplay this possibility.
As no-deal has not yet been removed from the table, despite repeated calls from the Opposition and the SNP, May told the Commons during Prime Minister’s Questions that they should not rely on “what someone said to someone else as overheard by someone else.”
She added that “It is very clear the government’s position is the same. We want to leave with a deal, and that’s what we are working for.”
Stephen Barclay, the Brexit Secretary, also sought to dispel these rumours, stating that May was “committed to leaving on 29 March.”
He also criticised Robbins by stating that he UK could not extend leaving the EU into the “darkness.”
He told the Today programme that: “The reality is that we are committed to delivering on the deal. The Prime Minister has been very clear that we are committed to leaving on the 29 March.”
He added that: “Any extension is not a unilateral decision. In the meetings with many of the European leaders that David Lidington and I had, what came over was actually that it is not in anyone's interests to have an extension without any clarity."
If this is indeed the position government is taking, this would rule out a no-deal scenario. This may cause conflict as no-deal outcome has a strong base of support among some in the Conservative party, especially in the European Research Group.
This update coincides with a statement from Ford, who have warned that a no-deal outcome would be “catastrophic” and have vowed that they will do “whatever is necessary” to protect their business.
According to a report published in The Times today, the business told Theresa May that it was preparing to move to alternative sites abroad. The company currently employs 13,000 staff in the UK.
Not all businesses, however, have adopted the same approach and viewpoint. In order to gauge the wider perception of these Brexit developments, the Review contacted Rick Bestwick, part of the Magnavale Group, and the I.M. Group, chaired by Lord Edmiston.
Discussing the development of Brexit negotiations, Lord Edmiston, Chairman of the IM Group and contributor to The Parliamentary Review in 2018, highlighted uncertainty as the key factor that was affecting business.
He told the Review: "Uncertainty is what business hates the most. All plans are placed on hold, so it is imperative we either agree a deal by 29th March or go for no-deal. If you can’t agree something in over two years then it’s doubtful you can with an extension – it’s just prolonging the agony.
"At the moment it’s death by a thousand cuts. Business will adapt to whatever scenario, but at the moment there’s nothing to adapt to so paralysis is setting in.
"We all want a sensible deal but even more important is some direction and long-term certainty: whatever that may look like."
Colin Taylor, CEO of Rick Bestwick, wrote about the opportunities for businesses post-Brexit in his contribution to the Review. Responding to these latest developments, Colin stated that:
"There have been several key developments in the last few days, foremost among these are the overheard comments of Olly Robbins and the noticeably increased, steely determination of the Prime Minister to secure and pass a deal before the 29th of March.
"Today’s Prime Minister’s Questions goes to show the growing nervousness of MPs on the run up to the deadline. Ian Blackford’s comment that businesses were “begging for certainty” strikes true and there is a definite sense of breath being held in the food industry.
"However, now that almost everyone has secured their plans for the worst-case scenario, by moving their stock from warehouses in mainland Europe to the UK and stockpiling additional products, there is a new feeling brewing: one of optimism.
"The governor of the Bank of England recently commented that the trade deals that could be struck once we leave the EU could spell a “golden age of trade”. Many UK manufacturers are now waking up to the fact that in just 44 days’ time, new markets for their products will start to open and they need to be ready."