As the Article 50 deadline rapidly approaches for Britain to negotiate its departure from the European Union, south Suffolk businesses have overwhelmingly called for a no-deal Brexit to be avoided.
The House of Commons voted down Prime Minister Theresa May’s latest Brexit proposal by a large majority on Tuesday, sowing further uncertainty among businesses as to what the final withdrawal agreement will look like.
It marked another major defeat for the government on Brexit, and has caused concerns to be raised about the possibility of leaving the EU without a deal.
Ahead of the votes this week, South Suffolk MP James Cartlidge published feedback received from surveying local businesses and farms, from which he revealed there was a broad consensus that Parliament approving a deal would be the most desirable outcome.
“I am very conscious of the fact that, at times, the coverage of the potential impact of a Brexit no deal scenario has verged on the hysterical,” he said.
“Given feelings are running so high, I have, therefore, sought an objective view of how local businesses feel and it has to be emphasised that feedback varies considerably.
“Some businesses are positive about the prospect of a no deal, others extremely worried, but the one thing there is agreement on is the best outcome would be for Parliament to pass a deal, so we can finally move on to the next stage.”
Mr Cartlidge cited responses from major manufacturers concerned about the impact on their exports to the EU, including one well-established firm that warned of a “potentially existential threat” if the default World Trade Organisation (WTO) tariffs are imposed on its products, in the event of no deal.
Other companies expressed worries about the general uncertainty of the Brexit process, with the East Anglian National Farmers’ Union (NFU) confirming that no grain exports have been scheduled from Ipswich beyond the end of March, due to the lack of clarity around potential tariffs.
“Inevitably, those firms most exposed both to the EU market and to WTO tariffs and non-tariff barriers are more concerned about the potential impact of a no deal Brexit,” said Mr Cartlidge.
“In some cases, the firms in question are extremely worried but have kept quiet publicly to avoid worrying their staff, which is understandable.”
He added that the survey was not all doom and gloom, with some businesses anticipating only minor issues from a no-deal Brexit, while one manufacturer stated it was important to “be able to walk away from the negotiating table”.
Mr Cartlidge concluded: “Overall, there is no doubt that the one outcome every business can agree they want to see is Parliament voting through a deal.
“In my view, this would not only lift current uncertainty, but see a bounce back in optimism and growth, giving us the ideal platform for us to leave in an orderly manner with our economy firing on all cylinders.”
John McMillan, president of the Sudbury Chamber of Commerce, told the Free Press that many of its members have been struggling very hard, due to business decisions and investment being postponed as a result of the uncertainty surrounding Brexit.
He explained that his own business, the Ballingdon Street-based bespoke software company McMillan Tech, is among those in Sudbury to have been affected by the drawn-out process.
“My own business is developing computer applications for business,” he said. “A new computer system tends to be the first thing to be put back.
“I have been hit very hard for the last three years – ever since the referendum was announced, in fact.
“While there is a variety of opinion amongst our members, the biggest Brexit problem is the uncertainty. Right now, there does not seem to be an end to this.
“Most businesses want to be able to plan ahead. Investment is being placed on hold and consumers are delaying purchases.”
Mr McMillan added that he did not personally have much confidence in Prime Minister Theresa May’s ability to negotiate a deal with Brussells, in light of recent results in the House of Commons.
“Personally, all I can see happening is Theresa May living in a fantasy world that she can get a deal that Parliament would accept,” he said.
Published by Suffolk Free Press.