LONDON: UK companies are at “breaking point” over the lack of clarity on Brexit, and are slowing down their investments as they await answers to key questions surrounding Britain’s departure from the European Union, one of the country’s main business lobby groups said.
Business confidence and investment intentions will continue to deteriorate until Prime Minister Theresa May ends the bickering in her Cabinet and delivers “urgent clarity on the practical, detailed issues that underpin trade,” the British Chambers of Commerce said. The government has made “limited progress” on just two of 23 issues where business seeks clarity, ranging from mobile-phone roaming arrangements to customs and tariffs, it said.
“With the time running out ahead of the UK’s exit from the EU, business patience is reaching breaking point,” BCC Director General Adam Marshall said on Tuesday in a statement. “With less than nine months go to until Brexit day, we are little closer to the answers businesses need than we were the day after the referendum.”
The warning is the latest sign that UK Plc is no longer prepared to give May time to bridge the divisions in her divided Conservative Party over Brexit. More than two years after the Brexit referendum, she’s yet to present a detailed plan for the country’s future EU relationship, because she can’t reach consensus among her ministers.
On Tuesday morning the Professional Services and Business Council, representing groups including lawyers, accountants and consultants, weighed in, releasing a letter to May which called for a deal that would allow their members to continue to work across the EU as they do now, with free movement and mutual recognition of qualifications. It warned against trying to do separate deals for services and manufacturing, sectors it described as “inextricably linked.”
Last month, first Airbus SE and then BMW AG warned they may pull UK investment, the first major companies to break cover and spell out the full implications of the lack of clarity on Brexit. That led to criticism from ministers including Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt that the companies shouldn’t air their grievances publicly: Hunt called Airbus’s warning “completely inappropriate,” while Johnson was cited in the UK media as saying “ f*** business.”
“Businesses have every right to speak out when it is abundantly clear that the practical questions affecting the competitiveness of their firms and the livelihoods of millions of people remain unanswered,” Marshall said.
The BCC listed 23 areas in which it’s seeking clarity. On two of them, it said there was “limited” progress: the access companies will have to the EU workforce in the future, and industrial standards. On the remainder, it found little or no progress. Those issues include the ability to make staff transfers across borders, the access UK companies and projects will have to European Investment Bank and Horizon 2020 science funding, tax arrangements, rules of origin, tariffs, customs inspections and the border with Ireland.