Brexit deal deadline for businesses is just days away, Greg Clark warns
Businesses cannot wait for the UK to strike an 11th-hour Brexit deal with Brussels, Cabinet minister Greg Clark has warned.
In a thinly-veiled dig at Brexiteers who argue that the EU will offer Britain a string of late-in-the-day concessions, the Business Secretary said the “last minute” deadline to strike a deal to protect UK exporters was “fast approaching over the next few days and weeks”.
The UK is currently due to leave the European Union with or without a deal on March 29, and Theresa May is heading back to Brussels this week to press for a string of changes to the agreement she hammered out with the EU.
But Mr Clark told MPs on the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee that some firms reliant on exports would need to know the terms of Britain’s withdrawal well ahead of that March 29 deadline.
He said: “Will they have to pay tariffs? Will they be subject to rules of origin checks that will no longer be met?
“It is one of the reasons why I've been very outspoken in saying that we should not regard the 29th of March or the 28th of March as the time that we should be prepared to take to conclude a deal.
“People often say these things are done at the last minute - the last minute for important exporters is fast approaching over the next few days and weeks.”
The Business Secretary - who has been outspoken in his opposition to Britain leaving the EU without a deal - said engineering firms exporting to Japan had already warned him that they would need six weeks’ notice of any new trading arrangements - a move he said would bump the real deadline for a deal up to “mid-February”.
Pressed on whether that meant a deadline of “next Friday” by committee chair Rachel Reeves, Mr Clark said: “For those that are exporting to Japan by sea they will need to make decisions on whether they send consignments over the next couple of weeks.”
The Cabinet minister also faced a grilling from Conservative MP Mark Pawsey, who warned that time was now becoming “tight” as he read out a letter from an engineering firm in his constituency demanding to know how staff could be sure they’d be able to look after their “children, mortgages and other responsibilities”.
Mr Clark said: "It is getting tight. I agree with you, Mr Pawsey. It is a fact that we don't know the terms of our future trading relationship with the rest of the European Union.”