Business leaders have reacted with frustration and warned that Britain is increasingly succumbing to Brexit fatigue, severely damaging the economy, after parliament again failed to break the deadlock over leaving the EU.
After Theresa May’s Brexit plan was defeated for a third time on Friday, throwing the country into yet more turmoil while paving the way for a potential no-deal departure from as early as 12 April, business groups said they were running out of patience with MPs.
Edwin Morgan, interim director general of the Institute of Directors, said: “We are running out of words to express how sick business leaders are of being stuck in this spirit-sapping limbo.”
The pound dropped on foreign exchanges after the result of the vote, falling below $1.30 against the dollar, before recovering slightly.
Business leaders warned that all steps necessary to avoid the country crashing out of the EU without a deal still needed to be taken. A no-deal exit would mean job losses and would damage economic growth, they said. The lingering threat of no-deal was costing companies work, they said, and forcing them to pause investments.
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said a legal guarantee was required against no-deal: “Businesses are paying the price of the political uncertainty. Time and money is being spent, irrecoverably, preparing for a no-deal scenario that most people, businesses and politicians do not want to see.”
Stephen Phipson, chief executive of Make UK, the manufacturers’ lobby group, said businesses were devastated that two years of negotiations, months of increasing uncertainty and weeks of building frustration were still far from an end.
“Every day companies are losing contracts, with investment falling and companies voting with their feet and walking away from Britain as a place to do business,” he said. “Our global reputation was already tarnished, we end the week with it in tatters.”
The warnings come after the Office for National Statistics confirmed that business investment in Britain fell in every quarter of 2018, the first time this has happened since the financial crisis.
Mike Cherry, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said MPs had clearly stopped listening to the business community. “Our small businesses have been crying out about the significant damage that uncertainty is causing them,” he said. “These cries have been drowned out by those seeking to play political games.”
Josh Hardie, deputy director-general of the CBI, said MPs needed to make serious progress on Monday when they table another series of indicative votes to outline a potential plan for breaking the impasse.
“The UK’s reputation, people’s jobs and livelihoods are at stake. No-deal is two weeks away. This winner takes all approach means everyone loses.”