British lawmakers preparing bid to delay Brexit, ministers tell furious business leaders

British Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit deal was rejected by lawmakers on Jan 15, 2019.
British Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit deal was rejected by lawmakers on Jan 15, 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) - British lawmakers are preparing a motion to delay the Article 50 process of leaving the European Union, government ministers told business leaders, according to a source who was on the call.

Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit deal was rejected by lawmakers on Tuesday (Jan 15) night, and in a call with business leaders, some of her senior ministers raised the notion that the March 29 date to exit the bloc might be pushed back.

Finance minister Philip Hammond, business minister Greg Clark and Brexit minister Stephen Barclay said that a "backbench motion is being prepared now to delay Article 50", a British corporate executive who was on the call told Reuters on condition of anonymity, adding that business leaders asked ministers about no-deal.

"They are doing a good job to try to appear to know what happens now, but no one knows," the source said. "We will have to wait to see what the consensus-building in Parliament does."

The briefing was held with the main British business lobby groups – the Institute of Directors, the Confederation of British Industry, the Federation of Small Businesses, the EEF and the British Chambers of Commerce – as well as executives from companies including Inc. and Siemens AG. 

In all events, Hammond said there was a strong majority in Parliament against a no-deal – which economists say would result in a recession – and that lawmakers were taking steps to avoid it, the people said.

Should May survive Wednesday’s no confidence vote brought by Labour, as is expected, she will start cross-party talks to find a consensus on the way to proceed. 

“There are no more words to describe the frustration, impatience, and growing anger amongst business after two and a half years on a high-stakes political roller coaster ride that shows no sign of stopping,” Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said ahead of the briefing with ministers.

“Basic questions on real-world operational issues remain unanswered.”

Stephen Phipson, chief executive of manufacturing lobby group EEF, described events in Parliament as a “pantomime” and said business is suffering “impossible uncertainty.”

“The time for theatre is over,” Phipson said. “No deal would be disastrous for UK manufacturing and its 2.7 million jobs.”

Automaker BMW AG said it would continue to prepare for the “worst-case scenario” of a no-deal Brexit.

“Uncertainty regarding post-Brexit trade relations between the UK and the EU is greater than ever,” the company said in an e-mailed statement.


Ms Catherine McGuinness, policy chair at the City of London Corporation, tweeted: “The government must urgently set out its ‘Plan B’ to ensure we can secure a deal locking in a legally binding transition before 29 March." 

Ms Carolyn Fairbairn, director general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), said: “Every business will tonight feel no-deal is hurtling closer. A new plan is needed immediately.”

Companies that have business with Britain are also in jittery. Mr Michael Strobaek, global chief investment officer of Credit Suisse, commented that “people, business and financial markets in the UK need certainty on future UK-EU relations”.

“Tonight’s parliamentary vote merely heightens the uncertainty,” he added.