Greg Clark says business no-deal fears are ‘project reality’ as he blasts prospect of last-minute Brexit agreement
Greg Clark has said it is “unacceptable” that businesses do not have clarity on Britain's post-Brexit trade arrangements with just weeks left until the UK leaves the EU.
The Business Secretary told manufacturing leaders that quitting the bloc without an agreement would be a “disaster” for the country and said he recognised the need for clarity “as soon as possible”.
He also took aim at those who dismiss business warnings of a no-deal Brexit, citing an Engineering Employers' Federation (EEF) survey which found that two thirds of employers in the manufacturing industry think it would spark immediate price increases, while one in three said it would hit jobs.
Theresa May has insisted she is willing to take Britain out of the European Union without a Brexit deal if Brussels fails to give in to key demands.
Addressing the EEF's conference today, Mr Clark said: “Some people, when you voice these concerns [about a no-deal Brexit], describe this as 'project fear'.
"But for me, knowing the familiarity that you have with the reality of running manufacturing operations and employing millions of people around the UK, I think it is better described as 'project reality', and your evidence needs to be acted upon.”
Mr Clark said it was “unacceptable” that a UK freighter which is set to arrive in Japan after Brexit day on 29 March had “no clarity on the terms under which its cargo will be admitted when it reaches its destination”.
“I know that is I know unacceptable to you, it’s unacceptable to me and for me it shows how absolutely essential it is to conclude the arrangements with a deal in the weeks ahead and not on the last minute, on the 28 March, but as soon as possible," he fumed.
“Because no one should regard waiting to the last moment when you are making decisions now that have consequences for many weeks and months ahead as acceptable.”
It comes after EEF chair Dame Judith Hackett hit out at “selfish” politicians who she said were willing to put ideology over business concerns despite a no-deal exit being a "catastrophic prospect" for employers.
The Prime Minister is set to meet European Commission president Jean Claude Juncker in Brussels tomorrow in a last-ditch bid to break the Brexit deadlock in the UK.
Elsewhere, Mr Clark said the announcement by Honda that it will close its Swindon car plant in 2021, with the loss of about 3,500 jobs, was “a very bitter blow.”
He said: “Our message to everyone by Honda is we value intensely your skills, we completely understand the challenges you face and we will do everything that we possibly can to support every single person in the community, in the work force in the supply chain to make sure their skills and ingenuity will find expression and application in the years ahead.”