FTA says logistics managers have ‘no greater clarity’ about the timing or nature of UK’s departure from EU, continuing to advise members to prepare for a ‘no-deal’ exit.
UK business leaders and trade associations, including the Freight Transport Association (FTA), expressed renewed frustration after a series of Brexit-related votes in the House of Commons yesterday gave no clearer idea about the arrangements surrounding the UK’s planned departure from the EU on 29 March.
James Hookham, deputy chief executive of the FTA commented: “The votes in the House of Commons last night leave logistics and supply chain managers with no greater clarity or confidence about the timing or nature of Brexit. The risk of a ‘No Deal’ Brexit on 29 March is just as great this morning as it was yesterday.
“FTA continues to advise its members managing UK-EU trade flows to continue preparing accordingly and we are stepping up our advice and services to support them. We are not in the business of politics, we are in the business of keeping Britain trading.”
Among several votes yesterday, Members of Parliament (MPs) backed the so-called Brady amendment – proposed by Conservative MP Sir Graham Brady – for the UK government to seek “alternative arrangements” to replace the ‘Irish backstop’ element container in the UK-EU withdrawal agreement, which seeks to prevent border checks in Ireland.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May had urged MPs to vote in favour of it, to give her a mandate to return to Brussels and re-open negotiations in order to secure a “legally binding change”, although EU representatives have repeatedly the legal text agreed with the UK cannot be changed.
Another amendment, rejecting a ‘no-deal’ Brexit, also won the support of Parliament, but the vote was not binding – meaning the date for exit remains 29 March. May said that, after taking the votes into account and talking to the EU, her revised deal would be brought back to the Commons as soon as possible for a second “meaningful vote”.
While some business groups viewed the non-binding vote against a no-deal Brexit as mildly positive, and others were somewhat relieved that there was now at least a majority for something, overall they are expressed further frustration.
Carolyn Fairbairn, director general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), commented: “This is another deeply frustrating day for British business. The never-ending parliamentary process limps on while the economic impact of ‘no-deal’ planning accelerates.
“The Brady amendment feels like a throw-of-the-dice. It won’t be worth the paper it is written on if it cannot be negotiated with the EU. Any renegotiation must happen quickly – succeed or fail fast.”
“Firms will welcome confirmation that a majority of MPs oppose a no deal outcome. But rejecting a no deal doesn’t get a deal. Until MPs can agree a solution, delay will do nothing to lift the threat of an economic cliff edge that is draining money from the UK.”
Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “Another day lost while the clock is ticking. Government and parliament are still going round in circles when businesses and the public urgently need answers.
“The real-world result of Westminster’s interminable wrangling is market uncertainty, stockpiling, and the diversion of staff, money and investment. For every big-ticket business announcing high-profile Brexit-related decisions, there are many more quietly making the changes they need in order to safeguard their operations in the event of a disorderly Brexit.
“The net result of this displacement activity and uncertainty is slow but very real damage to the UK economy.
Stephen Martin, director general of the Institute of Directors, said: “While it is something that MPs have managed to form a majority in any vote, the path ahead is still far from clear. The prime minister clearly faces a difficult task in winning a compromise on the backstop.
“However, if the choice is between trying to change the deal and leaving without one, business will have to hope the EU can be flexible and consider whether any legal changes at all could further clarify that the backstop is not a permanent fixture.”
National chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, Mike Cherry, focused on the no-deal vote, commenting: “By passing the Spelman-Dromey amendment, parliament has formally echoed the voice of small businesses that a no deal exit in 59 days’ time is not an option. The amendment does not have any force in law, so a no deal Brexit on 29 March isn’t off the table yet.
“This vote cannot simply be a symbolic one, we need government and parliament to redouble efforts to prevent it. Small businesses are not ready, and the country is not ready for this scenario.
“Tonight has seen a small but significant step that shows parliament falling into line with the UK small business community, which is a small relief. However, we cannot lose sight of the reality that we are still no closer to securing a pro-business deal before 29 March.”