We need more time on Brexit, top bosses tell Theresa May

NIcholas Cecil, Kate Proctor
Stark warning: business chiefs told Theresa May that the 90-week transition period for Brexit is too short: AFP/Getty Images

Business chiefs today issued a stark warning to Theresa May over the timing of Brexit.

The London Chamber of Commerce and Industry told the Prime Minister that a transition period of about 90 weeks is too short, amid growing fears that companies will not have enough time to prepare for life outside the EU because of a lack of clarity from the Government.

The intervention comes after an Airbus chief revealed the aerospace giant is starting to “press the button on crisis actions” which could ultimately see UK operations scaled back with the loss of thousands of jobs.

Former Treasury minister Lord O’Neill said the Airbus warning was a “vivid illustration” of the consequences of Britain quitting the single market and the customs union.

At a summit next week, EU leaders are set to warn businesses to prepare for a Brexit no-deal scenario, given the stand-off over the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic and other key issues.

The LCCI voiced the frustration of many bosses at the pace of progress on a future trade deal with the EU and a lack of clarity from the Government.

In a report, due out next week, its chief executive Colin Stanbridge stressed: “Two years on [from Brexit] there is an absence of detail from ministers on the absolutely key requirements for our members and wider business.”

The business group will demand answers over the “envisaged terms of trade” for businesses post-Brexit, the port systems and future arrangements for non-UK workers.

Highlighting concerns about the proposed transition period, from March next year until December 2020, Mr Stanbridge added: “We have doubts that 90 weeks is enough time. It is notable, that from soundings with other metro area chambers there appears to be a common business view that a longer transition period is necessary. The Prime Minister, and the Mayor of London, should take note.”

Businesses have been reluctant to go public about their worries over Brexit.

But Tom Williams, the chief operating officer of Airbus Commercial Aircraft which directly employs 14,000 people in Britain, told BBC radio today: “We’re becoming increasingly frustrated with the lack of clarity and obviously time is running out — we’re coming up to less than nine months to go. As we go through this summer, we need to get clarity. We are already beginning to press the button on crisis actions.”

The aviation company is considering abandoning plans to build aircraft wings in Britain.

Mr Williams added: “We have to come to the point where we have to make serious decisions. Quite often those decisions are long-term in nature and without clarity it’s too dangerous for us to proceed.

"We’re talking about decisions in terms of safety stocks, buffer stocks of components, assuming that there will be chaos at the borders and that material won’t be moving freely.”

The Cabinet has yet to decide what type of trading arrangements the UK should seek with the EU.

Mrs May is due to hold a meeting at Chequers next month to try to get ministers to reach agreement and faces a knife-edge Commons vote on a customs union.