Businesses are screaming out for certainty – which is why delaying Brexit would be so alarming

Businesses are screaming out for certainty – which is why delaying Brexit would be so alarming

Lost amongst all the drama and excitement expressed in the coverage over the last fortnight of defections from Labour and the Conservatives to The Independent Group (TIG), has been the voice of British business.

The overwhelming majority of British businesses just want the Government to get on with delivering Brexit, and finally get back some certainty as to what rules are going to apply to them. But unless the Government is able to provide this certainty, investment decisions for this country will be held back until the picture becomes clearer. That makes all of us poorer.

For the Prime Minister to now give MPs the opportunity to frustrate our exit should cause every real business in the country real alarm. Achieving certainty, clarity and finality must be the priority.

This is why the Alliance of British Entrepreneurs is making the case for exiting the EU on WTO terms, rather than signing up to the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement with its dangerous backstop. We now have over 450 businesses who have signed up to publicly support our various campaigns against the prevailing myths about where business stands on the deal. Despite operating purely on word of mouth, we represent more businesses (from more sectors and regions) than the CBI or Number 10 have been able to generate in all their joint letters seeking to push Project Fear on the British people. This gives an indication of the level of anger and frustration amongst the business community about political dithering.

Unless the backstop is replaced, the deal won’t bring any sense of finality to Brexit. It will have the UK cascading through possible delays, possible extensions to implementation periods, possible participation in a customs union (via the backstop or otherwise) and possible reversal of the decision to leave, in its entirety, throughout the process. There will be no certainty about the direction of travel for the UK at any point ahead of the next general election in 2022, at least. That is not satisfactory for the British people or its business community.

The TIGger plan is even more troubling for business. To re-run the referendum and have a second vote now cannot be taken seriously as a suggestion for how to bring finality to the issue of our relationship with the EU. Even in the event of a Remain win (this time), there is little if any reason to believe that voters would buy that outcome as more legitimate than the result the first time round. Businesses don’t need more divisive debates. We need to move on, however hard that is for some to come to terms with at present.

The public seem to agree too. If you check out the polling when the public are asked about support for a second referendum, they have pretty consistently rejected it – it only gets supported where people aren’t sure whether that would be a referendum on Leave or Remain, or Leave or May’s Deal, or even all three. When those questions are asked instead, support for it falls away.

However, one thing the public are clear on is their desire for by-elections when MPs opt to resign from their manifesto commitments! Both Survation and YouGov ran polls last week, where a clear majority supported TIG MPs going back to their voters to see whether they agreed with their decision to defect. The polled support for this is far higher than has been achieved in any of the “People’s Vote” polls for supporting a second referendum.

The case for business certainty, and the ability to make long-term plans, would favour this too. If MPs want to walk away from their commitments – to honour the referendum and have the UK leave the EU – the people and the business community should be able to hold them accountable at the ballot box. Bizarrely, though, the TIGgers are arguing themselves that now is not the time for elections or by-elections – because of the uncertainty they think that would be thrown up by them! This while explicitly calling for a hugely divisive national plebiscite. The fact they can say this publicly without widespread ridicule shows we live in truly extraordinary times.

While all the attention last week was on the TIGgers, businesses are at least reassured to see other Members of Parliament, including one-time die-hard Remainers, reconciling with where we are, being prepared to do the hard work and make compromise across their party, including with those with whom they previously openly strongly disagreed. Sensible-minded business people are relieved to see MPs like Nicky Morgan embrace pragmatism, and genuinely act in the national interest. These MPs deserve our vocal support. They have accepted the result and are now seeking genuine, grown-up solutions alongside their eurosceptic colleagues. That is how good outcomes are achieved in the greater interests of the country, not through breakaway-party ego-trips.

The reality is that the typical British business is not represented by the CBI or the variety of pro-EU talking-heads constantly popping up on our TV screens. These are groups with a vested interest in remaining bound to Brussels rules, because it works in their favour. Multinationals spend millions upon millions lobbying that system to rig the rules so they can keep out competitors. Fortunes are spent on professional lobbying each year to prevent disruptive start-ups and SMEs from encroaching on established industry groupings, at the expense of the consumer. The policy-making machine in Brussels has been totally captured by these groups, with no real say or control for voters, or indeed British business. Want an example? There are two and a half times as many financial services lobbyists in Brussels alone as there are MEPs.

Only one in twenty UK businesses even trades with the EU – the idea that all business people want to keep everything up in the air to have their rules set by Brussels is for the birds. They certainly don’t want to do it at the cost of being able to get on doing business in the interim.

What’s needed now is certainty. Talk to any business, in any sector, and they will tell you the same. Nothing is more damaging to jobs, investment and innovation than this hopeless, endless malaise; this death by a thousand cuts as drip by drip confidence trickles away. Certainty can only be achieved by ditching any ideas of referendum re-runs or reversal or delay. We need to just get on with it, and take back control.