On Thursday, the Prime Minister sealed a delay to Brexit until May 22 on the condition she can secure support for her withdrawal agreement from Parliament next week. If MPs reject this, the UK will have until April 12 to outline further steps, with a longer extension conditional on Britain taking part in European Parliament elections in May. But the Prime Minister’s deal has already suffered two crushing defeats in the House of Commons, first by 232 vote in January and then by a majority of 149 earlier this month, increasing business fears a no deal Brexit is edging closer.
A study by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), which represents 168,000 members from the SME community, showed confidence entered negative territory for the third consecutive quarter at -5.0 in the first three months of 2019, compared to +6.0 in the same period last year.
It was the first time the Small Business Index, which quizzed 1,094 firms from February 6-20, had slumped by a hat-trick of straight quarters since it was launched in the first quarter of 2010.
FSB National Chairman Mike Cherry has accused Theresa May and her Government of playing “political games” while small businesses continue to suffer.
He told Express.co.uk “We are potentially just days away from leaving the EU and small businesses are still blindly in the dark about how they will be operating after March 29. Put simply, this is a complete and utter failure of British politics.
“While politicians continue to dither, debate and play political games, small businesses are the ones being made to suffer.
“We are already seeing the negative impact Brexit uncertainty is having on small firms – we know of some that are having stock pulled from other stores as a direct result of it.
“As the uncertainty continues, a last minute no deal Brexit is still a very real possibility.
“This would be disastrous for our small firms who will be faced with supply chain disruptions, customs chaos, loss of tariff free trade and easy access to crucial markets.”
The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) also hit out at the Government at the lack of preparation on a possible no deal Brexit scenario.
The body, which represents 75,000 businesses employing over five million people combined, is desperate for more clarity over the impact of what a messy divorce from the European Union will have.
BCC co-executive director Hannah Essex told Express.co.uk: “While the EU may have given us a short reprieve, a no deal exit in a matter weeks still remains a real possibility, either by design or default.
“Government and their agencies have not fully prepared for no deal, and neither have many businesses.
“There are a wide range of areas where firms simply don’t have answers on what conditions they would face in a no deal scenario. For example, how their sector will be regulated and how changes to customs procedures will impact their lead times.
“The lack of certainty has hit business confidence and led many firms to take difficult decisions, including freezing investment, moving operations and jobs overseas or holding back on recruitment.
“These are prudent steps for individual companies to take but are having a real impact on the wider economy.”
Brexit negotiations over the past three years have been dominated by political party in-fighting, with different short and long-term views taken by MPs over whether Britain should leave the EU or not and the complications around that.
The Prime Minister’s position has been called into huge question in recent weeks as a result of her deal repeatedly being rejected by Parliament, with top Cabinet MPs threatening a mass walk—out if she doesn’t bow to their Brexit demands.
Mr Cherry said with time running out, the Government must stand up and be counted and come together if Britain is to find a credible route out of this crisis.
He told Express.co.uk: “Small firms need politicians from across the spectrum must use whatever extra time they are given, to stand up and show the leadership, responsibility and pragmatism that has so far been lacking.
“This is the only way that we will be able to find a credible route out of this mess.
“We now need a renewed vigour from Government and all other politicians to steer us out of this crisis towards a solution that works for all.”