If Theresa May was on course to cut a good Brexit deal, it would be in the interest of companies to back it. But she’s not. If there was no alternative to the miserable one she seems set to deliver, business leaders should still swing in behind it. But this is not so.
There is a better option: a People’s Vote, under which the public would get the final say over whether to quit the EU when we see the deal. This would be the best outcome for business, the economy and the nation.
This is why 57 per cent of business leaders support Business for a People’s Vote , which launches today.
Business confidence has been sapped during the two-and-a-half dreary years since the referendum. Companies have either sat on their hands or diverted investment overseas. The UK has slumped from the top of the Group 7 growth league to near the bottom. And this is before we have even left.
The Prime Minister’s emerging “deal” means death by a thousand cuts. All we will get is a 21-month transition period, not nearly long enough to nail down a comprehensive trade deal.
As of April 1 next year — yes, the first working day after we are meant to leave the EU is April Fools’ Day — firms will be staring at further cliff edges. The rules that business has to follow could change more than once — and the UK will no longer be making them.
The only clarity will be that the final destination will be worse than our current deal in the EU.
It’s not as if the political infighting over how close we should be with our biggest trading partner will end either. We won’t know for ages whether Mrs May, Boris Johnson or some other Conservative will gain the upper hand — or, indeed, whether it will be Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn in Downing Street.
Some business people think crashing out of the EU is so appalling that they should still back the Prime Minister. But the chance of that happening is slim, as very few MPs would vote for “no deal”. Far more likely, Parliament will call for a People’s Vote between the deal and staying in the EU.
Some business leaders fear the campaign would be divisive — and they are right that it would be hard fought. But we shouldn’t kid ourselves that the country will miraculously heal itself if we sign up to a bad deal that leads to more years of political warfare and business uncertainty.
A campaign not polluted by the cheating and lies of 2016 could be the first step to bring our country back together. But the job of healing will only be complete if politicians have the time and money to tackle our underlying problems — and they won’t have that if there’s a miserable blindfold Brexit.
Business leaders have been too quiet for too long. It is time to speak up.
- Lord Myners is a former chair of Marks & Spencer and a leading supporter of Business for a People’s Vote