Jobs will be moved out of Britain unless Theresa May secures progress in Brexit negotiations at next week’s summit of European Union leaders, a leading business lobbying group warned last night.
The CBI says more than half (60 per cent) of firms with Brexit contingency plans will activate them by Easter, meaning jobs leaving the UK, unless the December 14-15 European Council summit gives the green light to trade and transition talks.
The Prime Minister is in a race against time to find a solution to a row over maintaining a soft Irish border that satisfies the EU, including Ireland, and the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party which props up her Government.
Failure to do so would see the year passing with Brexit negotiations bogged down in their first phase, with no discussion or agreement on the transition period that businesses see as an “immediate” priority.
There was no sign of a breakthrough on the issue of the Irish border last night as Mrs May spoke on the phone with Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar, who suggested the green light to start trade talks may not come until the new year.
The taioseach said he made clear he was not backing down on his position that Dublin’s approval for the opening of the second phase of talks is dependent on agreement on the border.
Meanwhile, opposition MPs demanded that Brexit Secretary David Davis, MP for for Haltemprice and Howden, be sacked and face investigation for contempt of Parliament after admitting his department had produced no impact assessments of the likely effect of Brexit on different sectors of the UK economy.
And opponents of a hard Brexit accused the Government of being “breathtakingly dysfunctional” after Chancellor Philip Hammond revealed that - 18 months after the EU referendum - Cabinet has not yet discussed details of the UK’s preferred “end state” relationship with the EU.
Downing Street later said a discussion on the “end state” would be held in one of the two Cabinet meetings scheduled before the end of 2017. But Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable questioned the long delay in taking this step.
Last night, CBI president Paul Drechsler warned companies will move jobs or shift production if they have to and will begin making their “no turning back” decisions in the first quarter of 2018.
He said: “Today, Brexit uncertainty looms over almost every aspect of doing business in the UK. Every day, companies are having to plan for the worst while hoping for the best.
“They are making choices that will determine new jobs, new plants and new investments in the years ahead. Businesses will press snooze for as long as they can - but the alarm will go off.
“No company wants to move jobs or shift production - but business will if it has to. No-one wants to leave their homes or jobs - but EU citizens will if they feel they are no longer wanted.”