Transport and trade leaders react angrily to latest Brexit delay

UK prime Minister Theresa May faces a vote of confidence to the “utter dismay” of business leaders who express anger at the latest Brexit twist.

European and UK business leaders have reacted with anger at the latest Brexit developments, accusing politicians of looking inward when they should be putting the country and the economy first.

Following the delay of the ‘meaningful vote’ in parliament yesterday angry Conservative MP’s have called for a vote of no confidence in the party leader and Prime Minister Theresa May. The vote will take place today with the result being announced at nine O’clock UK time today. To survive May must get a simple majority of the 317 Conservative MP’s, however, some commentators say that a close vote could leave the Prime Minister’s authority severely damaged.

European Shippers’ Council secretary general Godfried Smit believes that, “The confidence vote does not help as this will probably end up with a new Prime Minister from the brexiteer wing of the conservative party which will diminish the acceptance of the present proposal (Theresa May’s Brexit deal with the EU).”

Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said today that businesses were watching events at Westminster with “utter dismay”.

Meanwhile, Stephen Martin, director general of the Institute of Directors (IoD), added “The last thing businesses needed today was even more uncertainty – and yet politics has managed to deliver on that once again.”

Theresa May made a statement earlier today arguing that this was not the time for a change of leader and that a new Prime Minister would not have time before the 21 January deadline to renegotiate with the 27 remaining EU countries. While senior EU officials have already ruled out more negotiations.

According to May if she loses tonight’s vote it could lead to a ‘no deal’ exit from the EU or no exit at all from the European Union.

Remaining in the EU would at least offer some continuity for trade and some may privately see remain as the most sensible option at this time.

Martin at the IoD said, “Many business leaders, along with the rest of the country, will be tearing their hair out at the state of Westminster politics at the moment. We are edging closer and closer to no deal as a result of constant can-kicking and internal domestic political strife. Politics is politics, and we will have to let this run its course. But whatever the outcome, cool heads must prevail. Ensuring economic stability and certainty in the months ahead should be priority number one for all politicians.

A view that was shared by the, ESC, “A seamless transition to the post Brexit time is very important. In this respect, it is unfortunate that a new and longer phase of uncertainty has been introduced.  A cliff edge scenario will put a heavy burden on the shoulders of shippers. Also, member states will have difficulties to organise border checks. According to the present timeline, enterprises have hardly any time for preparation. After January, the capacity with service providers and software providers will be very limited. Many shippers have postponed investments.”

According to Smit a no deal or cliff edge exit from the EU would “Imply declaration, customs formalities, and duties, as well as quantitative restrictions”.

Meanwhile, Marshall at the BCC vented his anger at politicians claiming that it is unacceptable at such a pivotal moment for Westminster politicians to focus on themselves.

“The utter dismay among businesses watching events in Westminster cannot be exaggerated. Our firms are worried, investors around the world are baffled and disappointed, and markets are showing serious strain as this political saga goes on and on.”

He concluded, “History will not be kind to those who prioritise political advantage over people’s livelihoods. Businesses need politicians, regardless of party or views on Brexit, to understand that their high-stakes gambles have real-world consequences of the highest order.”

FreightWaves contacted the Dover Harbour Board, Charlie Elphicke, the Conservative member of parliament for Dover, and PD Ports for comment, but there had been no response at the time of going to press.

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Nick Savvides, Staff Writer

Nick came to FreightWaves in December 2018 from Fairplay, a shipping market publication. He covers the shipping, freight and logistics industry in Europe. Since starting his career as a journalist in 1990, Nick has worked for a number of significant freight publications abroad, including International Freighting Weekly, the online news service for Containerisation International, ICIS, the chemical industry reporting service, as well as Seatrade in Greece. Nick also worked as a freelance journalist writing for Lloyd’s List, The Observer, The Express and The European newspapers among others before joining Seatrade Newsweek in Athens.