A Round-up of Comments and Views following the defeat of Theresa May in the Commons

The second huge defeat for the Prime Minister’s last-minute deal has unsurprisingly attracted comment and criticism from all quarters. 

The Confederation of British Industry’s (CBI) director-general Carolyn Fairbairn said: “Enough is enough. This must be the last day of failed politics. A new approach is needed by all parties. Jobs and livelihoods depend on it.” She added: “Extending Article 50 to close the door on a March no-deal is now urgent. It should be as short as realistically possible and backed by a clear plan.  Conservatives must consign their red lines to history, while Labour must come to the table with a genuine commitment to solutions. It’s time for Parliament to stop this circus.”

Similar sentiments were expressed by the interim director-general of the Institute of Directors (IoD) Edwin Morgan, who is quoted as saying: “Our politicians have yet again failed to find a way to break the impasse. They are becoming adept at saying what they don’t want, but it’s still hard to see where the desire for compromise lies.  Now that we have confirmation that parliament will have its opportunity to reject no deal on 29 March, it is essential that political leaders on all sides look beyond party lines to find a way to move the country forward.

“If an extension is sought, both the government and the opposition must state in precise terms what they are hoping to achieve from it. Recurring short extensions aren’t an appetising prospect for businesses.  While business leaders will be eager to see the details on tariffs and the Northern Ireland border, the government’s belated contingency planning and lack of transparency have made it almost impossible for many of them to prepare adequately for no deal by 29 March.”

Deloitte's, one of the big four accountants, reports that in a survey of Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) 80% believe that the long-term business environment will be worse as a result of leaving the EU; 49% also commented that their capital expenditure will slow and over half expect overall hiring over the next three years will slow down.  Ian Stewart, chief economist at Deloitte, said:
“This survey shows that uncertainty over Brexit is driving a marked shift towards defensive balance sheet strategies among British businesses. With the UK’s growth prospects heavily dependent on the so far uncertain nature of its exit from the EU, corporates are cutting back on capital expenditure and hiring, focusing instead on cost reduction.  Corporates are positioned for the hardest of Brexits, with risk appetite at recessionary levels and an intense focus on cost control. Businesses seem to be increasingly pricing in a worst-case outcome. Anything better, including a delay or a deal, could deliver a Brexit bounce in sentiment.”

The governing body of the Square Mile, the City of London Corporation’s policy chair, Catherine McGuinness, commented “The rejection of the Government’s deal tonight leaves British businesses facing continued economic uncertainty at a critical juncture.  We are now staring down the precipice. Politicians of every hue must overcome their differences and make avoiding a no-deal Brexit the absolute priority, starting with the vote in Parliament tomorrow. The financial consequences of a no-deal Brexit are well-versed and politicians must now act to prevent this from becoming a reality for businesses and households across the country.

“Extending Article 50 would be one way of avoiding the UK crashing out of the European Union without a deal but this would only be a sticking plaster unless the deep, underlying issues are resolved. Politicians must use any extension to work together as a matter of urgency to secure a deal, locking in a legally binding transition within the necessary timeframe.”

The CEO of The CityUK, an industry-led body representing British financial services and other related professions, Miles Celic, said  “The UK leaving the EU without a deal would be an own goal of historic proportions for the UK and the EU. This is absolutely not in the interests of customers or the wider economy. MPs must now say ‘no to no-deal’ and the UK and the EU must urgently return to the negotiating table.

We need a rapid agreement on the way forward to protect customers and jobs. This is a vital part of keeping the U.K. at the top of the global premier league of international financial centres – something that is in the interests of customers at home and across Europe.”

The urgent cries for a delay or halt to Brexit may be thwarted by the schisms in the House of Commons.  Michel Barnier made it clear that before any consideration or decision on an extension to Article 50 would depend on the House of Commons being able to show that there was “a constructive majority” in parliament.  Mr. Barnier supported by European Parliament Brexit chief Guy Verhofstadt, who commented:”I’m against every extension if it isn’t based on a clear opinion of the House of Commons for something they want. Please make up your minds in London, because this uncertainty can’t continue – not for us, not for Britain, and certainly not for our citizens.” 

Emmanuel Macron, who has been very straightforward in his opinion of the negotiations, echoed the sentiment.  Going as far as to say his country would block an extension of Article 50 “without a clear objective”, adding that any delay had to be “justified by a new choice of the British”.

Brussels has made it clear that as far as it is concerned the negotiations are finished and there is no further that can be said, with Donald Tusk saying the EU had “done all that is possible to reach an agreement”.  It may be quite a feat to unite parliament and then persuade the 27 countries in the EU to agree to an extension in the 17 remaining days to the cliff edge.