UK Plc issued an “urgent appeal” to Prime Minister Theresa May to get off the fence on Brexit or risk serious damage to business.
The British Chambers of Commerce warned in an open letter that there is “no room for continued ambiguity” as companies try to make hiring and investment decisions, with the deadline for leaving the European Union drawing near.
The plaintive appeal — perhaps the clearest signal yet of business leaders’ frustration with the Brexit process — comes as May heads into talks with UK ministers over what kind of relationship the UK wants with the EU. May is caught in a Conservative Party tug-of-war between hard-liners such as Jacob Rees-Mogg, who want a clean break from the EU, and perceived moderates like Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond.
“Patience is wearing thin,” said Francis Martin, president of the BCC, and Adam Marshall, the group’s director-general, in the letter. “The government must set out its plans.”
May is unlikely to provide clarity on the Brexit blueprint this week, according to a senior UK official. A government official said last week that May had ruled out staying in the EU’s customs union after Brexit, though some pro-European lawmakers in her own party are attempting to force her to change course. A customs union imposes a common external tariff on goods coming into the EU, a key issue for British businesses reliant on imports looking to avoid a hike in costs.
Businesses have campaigned for a grace period to allow them to prepare for the changes. UK and European officials are aiming to reach an agreement by the end of March on the terms of a two-year transition, one year before Britain’s official exit day, though there are concerns this deadline could slip.
Amid the policy vacuum, some companies are preparing to implement contingency plans, the BCC letter says. Others have “simply disengaged,” it adds.
“The BCC has refrained from entering into the noisy political debate on the shape of the final settlement in recent weeks,” said Martin and Marshall. But “businesses need those elected to govern our country to make choices — and to deliver a clear, unequivocal statement of intent.”
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