U.K. Business's Patience Tested as May, Juncker Say No Deal Yet

  • British Chambers of Commerce presses leaders for ‘momentum’
  • Companies from across the economy reiterate need for clarity
EU's Juncker Says No Brexit Deal Today

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U.K. Plc’s frustration over a lack of Brexit clarity intensified as a breakthrough in talks failed to materialize.

Businesses were eager to remind the politicians that their planning horizons are rapidly vanishing. 

“It is imperative to keep up the momentum, as it’s high time to answer the huge practical questions on regulation, customs, standards, tariffs and taxes that lie at the heart of what businesses need to know in order to plan for the future,” Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said in a statement. He added that statements by British and European Union leaders suggesting progress would come “enhance the prospects of finally securing a much-needed transition deal.”

Despite the “friendly and constructive meeting” between U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, hoped-for progress was scuppered by the issue of Britain’s land border in Ireland. 

The leader of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party said they won’t accept any form of regulatory divergence from the rest of the U.K. The party props up May’s government and opposes measures that would separate it from mainland Britain.

Cross-sector

Businesses across the country said they’re unable to sit on their hands much longer.

“To get on to the trade talks is imperative for us -- I’d like to know straight away” said David Lenehan, managing director of Northern Industrial, a Blackburn, northwest England provider of spare parts and repairs for factories and machines. Customs changes could disrupt the business model of his 74-employee outfit. 

“We’ve got competitors in Europe who, if they can get parts delivered faster, then it doesn’t really matter about price," he said. "A day or half-a-day delay can be the difference between getting an order and losing an order.”

Brexit’s weakening effect on the pound has boosted his company’s exports, he said, but at the same time it has made investment decisions more difficult and convinced several staff to move back to their home countries in mainland Europe.

‘ASAP’

Business leaders from broadcasters to farmers reiterated a similar message: please give us time to implement changes.

“We urge both sides to start negotiations on transitional and long-term arrangements as soon as possible,” said Adam Minns, executive director of the Commercial Broadcasters Association, which represents international media networks in the U.K., adding they need clarity in the first half of next year for planning.

Like banks, global media companies like Discovery Communications Inc., Sweden’s Modern Times Group AB and Time Warner Inc.’s Turner International use U.K. licenses to access the EU and must soon decide whether to relocate some operations. Meanwhile, the trade body for British farmers sounded a note of optimism.

“We’ve been stuck in phase one of the negotiations for a long time now,” said Nick von Westenholz, director for EU exit and international trade for the National Farmers Union. "For us it’s very good news that it looks as if the talks may move forward.”

— With assistance by Agnieszka De Sousa, and Joe Mayes

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