Why it is time to stop the clock and revoke Article 50 to avoid a no deal
As the clock ticks down to March 29, businesses are united behind the need to avoid a no deal Brexit, which would hurt the very people who can least afford it.
Business respected the result of the referendum and got behind the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement as a pragmatic way of avoiding no deal. But we cannot support crashing out of Europe without a deal; it poses too great a risk to people’s livelihoods and trading on World Trade Organisation terms would raise big practical and logistical challenges that we’re just not ready for. That’s why Parliament needs to pause and take time to agree an approach that commands support. Step one must be to revoke Article 50.
At London First, we speak for more than 200 employers spanning all sectors. For over 25 years we’ve been coming up with solutions to keep our capital working to support growth in the rest of the UK. By galvanising the business community, we helped create the charity Teach First as well as championing innovative solutions to the capital’s problems, such as the congestion charge and Skills London – the UK’s biggest jobs and careers fair for young Londoners.
We are equally pragmatic when it comes to finding a way forward on Brexit. We have tirelessly argued for a deal that’s good for the economy and citizens - one which would retain as many of the benefits of the customs union and single market as possible, while keeping us open to global talent.
But after nearly two years of political wrangling, which has diverted much-needed attention from other pressing issues - housing, skills and transport - it’s clear we are no further forward. The Prime Minister, despite her best efforts, has not made definitive progress on either avoiding no-deal, nor presented a plan B Parliament can support. It is also clear this continued uncertainty has meant businesses have been unable to prepare for Brexit, let alone no deal.
We recently surveyed more than 850 senior decision makers from British businesses across the country - just 41 percent feel ready for Brexit and almost a fifth feel badly prepared. As you’d expect, it’s worse for small and medium-sized firms, where around a third have plans in place. Worryingly, of those firms which had prepared, most have already triggered at least one form of contingency, including reviewing markets, supply chains or even relocating. On a near daily basis we see this drip, drip, drip of news from companies delaying investment, shifting production and losing staff amid the Brexit uncertainty.
A no deal Brexit would also have a negative impact on the daily lives of constituents across the country. In London alone, a no deal Brexit has been forecast to result in up to 87,000 fewer jobs, according to analysis from Cambridge Econometrics, and some argue it could knock £40bn of the capital’s annual output by 2034. HMRC reckons 145,000-250,000 traders across the UK would have to make customs declarations for the first time - a real headache for hard-pressed smaller businesses.
And data from the consumer group Which? shows that two thirds of people in London are now worried about Brexit, up 20% over two years. Among the practical things people are worried about is whether they will be able to get hold of medication in the event of no-deal; there’s already evidence that patients are stock-piling drugs against official guidance. At the other end of the spectrum, some parents will be worrying about the prospect that their annual summer holiday could be ruined after the International Air Transport Association warned up to five million flights could be grounded if we leave without a deal.
Your constituents might not be agreed on the way forward, but they do expect parliament to find one. That’s why it is time to revoke Article 50 and stop the clock to give parliamentarians the breathing space to come up with a more inclusive solution that can command support. It would also mean the Government can stop squandering billions on last-ditch efforts to manage a no-deal scenario. And if Parliament can’t find a way forward, then the only course of action is for the decision to go back to the people.
Jasmine Whitbread is CEO of London First