Businesses unnerved by repeated Brexit delays and uncertainty over recent months called on new Prime Minister Boris Johnson to abandon a no-deal EU withdrawal plan. The Confederation of British Industry (CBI), which represents UK employers, outlined to the new PM that his primary focus in office should be getting a deal secured by October 31. Carolyn Fairbairn, the CBI director-general, said: “On Brexit, the new Prime Minister must not underestimate the benefits of a good deal. It will unlock new investment and confidence in factories and boardrooms across the country.”
The CBI represents approximately 190,000 businesses in the UK and senior executives have strongly favoured a Remain position since the EU referendum vote in 2016.
But as the UK slides towards a possible no-deal Brexit, how will business leaders react to the prospect of a hard EU withdrawal becoming reality?
Rita Trehan, CEO of business transformation company Dare, says tensions among employers will be “heightened” given Boris’s overhaul of his Cabinet in favour of Brexiteers.
She said: “The Cabinet now consists of a set of highly pro-leave individuals and this is likely to add to the concern within the market and among businesses, that the changes of leaving without a deal are increasing as time marches on and in the words of Gordon Brown, the risk that the UK will ‘be pushed off a cliff’ is of course leading to yet more uncertainty and frustration.
“The only thing we do know for certain is that it’s critically important for businesses to have contingencies in place.
“Contingencies concerning supplier arrangements, potential new markets, should access to their current markets prove to be difficult if not impossible as well as plans for ensuring they retain the talent they need to sustain their businesses.
“Equally, ensuring that they are wisely conserving capital to address any recession is something all businesses must be mindful of over the coming months.”
While it appears there may be no open rebellion planned among business leaders just yet, Ms Trehan said divisions will certainly arise within the Conservative Party.
She said: “We have already seen three previous PM’s prior to Boris’s appointment, delivering warning messages about the significance and danger of leaving the EU without a deal and many more are likely to rear their head over the next week or so.
“A number of Conservative MPs have already challenged Boris Johnson, Sir Alan Duncan resigned from his post, supposedly to pip Boris to the post ahead of his Cabinet reshuffle, and has been very vocal about his concerns that Boris Johnson can’t lead the country.
“It seems that the general consensus is that MPs are going to sit on their hands for the time being, and wait to see what Boris can achieve.
“However, I doubt very much that this will last long.
“I think it’s inevitable that Remainers and opposers to a no-deal Brexit will fight Boris’s agenda, whether that’s a mass resignation, legislative block or a no-confidence vote.”
Elsewhere, the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) also warned Mr Johnson to get a grip on Brexit proceedings quickly.
Adam Marshall, the BCC’s director-general, said: “Companies need to know, in concrete terms, what your government will do to avoid a messy, disorderly Brexit … which would bring pain to communities across the UK and disruption to our trade around the world.”