‘We are staring down the barrel of no deal’: Business and union leaders react to Brexit vote

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Business and union leaders have called for urgent action to find a way through the crisis caused by the crushing Brexit defeat for the Prime Minister.

Some said there should be an extension to the transition period to allow time for a way forward.

Glyn Roberts of Retail NI.

Glyn Roberts of Retail NI.

Retail NI Chief Executive Glyn Roberts said: “This is a disappointing but not unexpected result. While the Prime Minister’s draft Withdrawal Bill was in no way perfect, it was definitely preferable to crashing out of the EU with no deal.

“The Government now needs to work on a cross-party basis with Labour and other opposition parties to reach a broader agreement for a withdrawal deal and secure the transition period, protect jobs and a positive future relationship with the EU.

“It is vital that Labour Party leadership meets with the representatives of the business community in Northern Ireland to move this process forward.

“Parliament needs to make it crystal clear that a no-deal will not be accepted given the disastrous impact this would have on the economy of Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.”

Ian Wright, chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation said: “The Prime Minister’s deal has been decisively rejected and it is now vital that the political leadership find a way to indicate what alternative should be pursued.

“We are calling for an extension to the transition period in order for Parliament to decide what our next steps are; whether that is a new deal, a referendum, an orderly exit from the EU without a deal at a later date, or a general election.

“The Government should now be looking to speak with representative organisations such as the FDF, to ensure they are pursuing an alternative that prevents further damage to the UK’s wider economy.”

London Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Colin Stanbridge said: “The adverse impact of the uncertainty is nothing compared to the economic disaster that will ensue if this country leaves the EU without a deal.

“London businesses are aghast as Parliament continues to either guide or fail to stop the country heading towards the No Deal cliff edge. MPs simply must agree a deal, and fast.”

Royal Institute of British Architects chief executive Alan Vallance said: “Tonight’s vote has left us in unchartered territory. No deal would be a disaster for the UK and ignores the deep economic, human and legal links between the UK and the EU.

“For the architecture sector, projects continue to be put on hold as uncertainty damages the investment climate and many EU architects in the UK are still uncertain about their future.”

A spokesman for the Prospect union said: “Whatever happens in the next few days, the first priority of parliament must be to secure an extension of Article 50 and rule-out the worst-case scenario of No Deal.

“Trying to force this deal through parliament again cannot be the answer to such a serious question about our future. Any new deal that is put on the table in the coming months must be put to a public vote about whether to accept it or remain in the EU.

“It’s clear that this is the only way to break the deadlock without sliding into No Deal by default.”

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: “The country has no faith in the Prime Minister’s ability to get her Brexit deal passed, now it’s clear MPs don’t either. It’s time for a vote of no confidence and a general election so people can vote in a new government to sort out this unholy mess.”

Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI director general, said: “Every business will feel no deal is hurtling closer. A new plan is needed immediately.

“This is now a time for our politicians to make history as leaders. All MPs need to reflect on the need for compromise and to act at speed to protect the UK’s economy.”

Stephen Martin, director general of the Institute of Directors, said: “It is the collective failure of our political leaders that, with only a few weeks to go, we are staring down the barrel of no deal.

“As things stand, UK law says we will leave on 29th March, with or without a withdrawal agreement, and yet MPs are behaving as though they have all the time in the world - how are businesses meant to prepare in this fog of confusion?

“The clock is still ticking, and whatever the outcome of tomorrow’s no confidence vote, the reality is that MPs will still need to find a way to put aside their differences and come to an agreement.”

Dr Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “There are no more words to describe the frustration, impatience, and growing anger amongst business after two-and-a-half years on a high-stakes political roller-coaster ride that shows no sign of stopping.

“Basic questions on real-world operational issues remain unanswered, and firms now find themselves facing the unwelcome prospect of a messy and disorderly exit from the EU on March 29.”

Federation of Small Businesses chairman Mike Cherry said: “It is time for politicians to come together and urgently find a way forward from this alarming Brexit stalemate, and now, no-confidence vote.

“The UK is due to leave the EU in just 10 weeks, and yet businesses still have no idea what kind of circumstances they should prepare for.”

Stephen Phipson, chief executive of EEF - the manufacturers’ organisation, said: “After two years of negotiations, Westminster has failed to deliver a workable plan for Brexit.

“Parliament’s pantomime now continues while business suffers impossible uncertainty which will only worsen investment and the worrying business climate.”

Tim Roache, GMB general secretary, said: “I saw Laurel and Hardy on Sunday, so to quote an old favourite ‘that’s another fine mess you’ve gotten us into’ Prime Minister.”

Len McCluskey, leader of the Unite union, said: “The scale of this defeat is truly astonishing. The normal convention would be for the PM to resign and for a real people’s vote to take place.

“A general election now is the only way for the electorate to voice their verdict on what has become a national tragedy for our nation.”

Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufactures and Traders, said: “The vote against the Brexit deal on the table brings us closer to the no-deal cliff edge that would be catastrophic for the automotive industry.

“All sides in Parliament must work together to find a way forward and put the necessary mechanisms in place to prevent this happening and explore alternatives that protect our future.”