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BRC on Brexit: "we desperately need certainty"

Lauretta Roberts
16 January 2019

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) has responded to last night's historic defeat of the Prime Minister's Brexit deal in the House of Commons by urging MPs to find a "workable solution" because UK businesses will be "severely disadvantaged" by a no deal scenario.

Theresa May's Withdrawal Agreement faced the biggest parliamentary defeat in 100 years with 432 MPs voting against it (with hard Brexiters and remainers rejecting the deal for different reasons) and just 202 voting for it. Remarkably 118 of Theresa May's own MPs voted against her deal.

The Prime Minister's government now faces a vote of no confidence tabled by the opposition, which she is likely to win. However the move prolongs uncertainty for British business as a whole with a "no deal" exit from the EU remaining a possibility.

This scenario is something the BRC has been fighting against since leave won the referendum in June 2016 arguing the impact on retail's supply chains would be devastating, and that it would lead to higher prices for consumers.

"The events in Westminster are a serious cause for concern. A no deal Brexit will mean the British public will face higher prices and less choices on the shelves. British businesses desperately need certainty  about the UK's future trading relationship with the EU and will be severely disadvantaged by no deal," said BRC CEO Helen Dickinson.

"This really is crunch time and politicians must come together around a workable solution that safeguards consumers from the costs and disruptions of new constraints on the tariff-free frictionless trade we currently enjoy with partners in the EU. The time for Parliamentary games is over," she added.

No deal is just one possible scenario to emerge from last night's defeat but it is by no means a certainty. Some Parliamentarians have suggested an extension of Article 50 is now more or less a given while the issue of how or whether the UK should Brexit is further examined.

Labour's strategy seems to be centred on forcing a General Election and, if the win, renegotiating with Brussels. However a "People's Vote" also remains a possibility. Theresa May, as of last night, seemed determined to craft some form of deal that doesn't differ too greatly from the deal that was so heavily defeated, with some reports suggesting, despite pledging to listen to the concerns of Parliament, she will not countenance a Customs' Union with the EU on the basis it restricts the UK's ability to strike independent trade deals with non-EU countries.

This proposed approach was met with exasperation from Labour MP Yvette Cooper, who Tweeted. "Seriously? Same old red lines from Theresa May? Even though she just lost by 230 votes? She can’t keep behaving like this. Makes a complete mockery of all her words after the vote"

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