U.K. Business Warns Against ‘Normalizing’ No-Deal Split From EU

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The possibility of the leaving the European Union without an agreement shouldn’t be “normalized,” the leader of the U.K.’s biggest business lobby group said as she warned of the “extraordinary uncertainty” it would trigger.

An extension to the Oct. 31 Brexit deadline would prolong the limbo in which British companies find themselves, but would be “preferable to no-deal by a very large margin,” Confederation of British Industry Director-General Carolyn Fairbairn said in an interview.

“We are 21 working days from a potential overnight rupture with our biggest trading partners of the past 40 years, and it’s become normalized,” Fairbairn said. “It’s very important there’s no complacency about that.”

Fairbairn issued her warning at the annual conference of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party, at which minister after minister stressed the importance of getting Brexit done by Oct. 31 -- even if it means doing so without a deal.

“It’s incredibly important thing for everyone to understand business cannot be fully prepared for no deal: it is an impossibility,” she said. “It’s very important that that myth is not allowed to become conventional wisdom.”

Spending Boost

Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid has ramped up spending on preparations for leaving the bloc without an agreement, and at the weekend pledged a no-deal Brexit “guarantee” worth 16.6 billion pounds ($20.4 billion). The government has repeatedly said Britain will be ready for such an eventuality.

“The impact of a no-deal Brexit would be to trigger a whole new phase of the most extraordinary uncertainty,” Fairbairn said. “We’d need to have tens or hundreds, if not thousands, of side deals to be able to cope with the impact of no-deal on borders, on Northern Ireland, on tariffs, on people. We’d be mired in uncertainty for years to come.”

The government says it wants a deal, but that the deadline for leaving must be adhered to.

“The problem that we have is that this has been an endless debate. The referendum took place three and a half years ago -- people have gone to university and graduated in that time,” Business Minister Kwasi Kwarteng said in an interview. “We’ve got to end this without just reiterating the question.”

A group of opposition parties are working with former Conservative members of Parliament to stop a no-deal departure, and have passed legislation to force the premier to delay Brexit if he hasn’t got a deal approved by Oct. 19.

Fairbairn said the CBI is “trying to stay completely out of the politics,” but acknowledged “yes, we do talk to them,” when asked about the anti-no-deal coalition. “But we also talk to the government, we talk to the opposition, we talk to all parties.”

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