LONDON, March 29 — Britain’s business community yesterday lamented the deadlock that has crippled UK politics, and accused lawmakers of letting companies down on the eve of yet another crucial Brexit vote.
The government is planning to put Prime Minister Theresa May’s twice-rejected Brexit deal to a third parliamentary vote today in a last-gasp attempt to avoid a messy no-deal divorce from the European Union.
“To Westminster we say: We are frustrated. We are angry. You have let British business down,” said Adam Marshall, director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), which represents thousands of firms.
“Westminster” is a reference to Britain’s parliament and government.
“You have focused on soundbites, not substance. Tactics, not strategy. Politics, not prosperity Listening without hearing,” he added in opening remarks at the BCC’s annual conference in London.
Brexit had long been scheduled for today — but anxious EU leaders agreed last week to offer London an extension amid ongoing political acrimony.
Marshall’s angry tone reflected much of the business community’s unhappiness over almost three years of chronic uncertainty since the June 2016 Brexit referendum.
“As a result, businesses and communities in every part of the UK are still unsure about when the future starts — let alone what it holds,” added Marshall.
“Three years going round in circles. Three years is long enough.”
The speech sparked enthusiastic applause from hundreds of business leaders attending the gathering in central London, just yards from the House of Commons, Britain’s parliament.
David Lidington, May’s de facto deputy prime minister and a potential successor, acknowledged the concerns.
“I recognise the real frustration that uncertainty around this process has caused in the business community,” he told the gathering.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan also vented his frustration at the event.
“We are frankly just days away from potentially leaving the EU with no deal at all,” Khan added.
“My main concern is not whether Theresa May is going to lose her job.
“I am more worried about the impact her deal, or a no-deal Brexit, could have on Londoners’ jobs.
“I’m more worried about your business and the jobs of the hard-working men of women many of you employ,” he told delegates.
May dramatically pledged Wednesday to resign in order to persuade lawmakers to finally back her Withdrawal Agreement for breaking Britain’s 46-year membership of the EU.
EU offered a Brexit extension until May 22, but this is conditional on parliament voting through May’s deal by today — the day Britain was originally scheduled to leave the bloc.
Parliament’s failure to pass May’s agreement could result in a feared “no-deal Brexit” scenario on April 12.
Separately on Thursday, the head of Britain’s car industry body warned again that a no-deal Brexit would spark “serious damage”.
“A managed no deal is a fantasy. Uncertainty has already paralysed investment, cost jobs and damaged our global reputation,” said Mike Hawes, head of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.
“Business anxiety has now reached fever pitch and we desperately need parliament to come together to restore stability.” — AFP