PM will be forced to extend transition, claim business leaders

Boris Johnson will be forced to extend the transition period in order to focus on the coronavirus outbreak engulfing government, business leaders have today claimed.

Pauline Bastidon, head of European policy at the Freight Transport Association, said: “There’s absolutely no bandwidth for anything other than COVID-19. There’s no time, energy, money or interest at the moment to focus on Brexit.”

Helen Brocklebank, CEO of luxury sector representatives Walpole, said: “Everyone is hoping for an extension. Brexit is very much taking a back seat at the moment as companies fight to survive.”

The comments from business chiefs comes after a Focaldata poll commissioned by Best for Britain and HOPE not hate found that two thirds of Brits wanted to extend the transition period in order to focus on coronavirus. There was agreement on the need for an extension among all age groups, social grades and UK regions, rising to four fifths of Scots (78%). 

There was predictable support from those who voted for Labour (84%) and the Lib Dems (83%) at the last election, but an extension was also supported by nearly half of those who voted Conservative (44%) and a fifth of Brexit Party voters (19%).

You can see more about Best for Britain's polling here.

Commenting, Best for Britain CEO Naomi Smith said:

"There is now universal agreement that the government should extend the transition period.

"As a country, we must make sure we are not splitting our focus between the coronavirus pandemic and conducting complicated trade talks.

"By trying to do both at once, the government risks doing a bad job. 

"The sooner we request an extension, the sooner businesses can put concerns over a devastating double whammy of economic disruption to rest."

Why do we think there should be an extension?

1. No good deal without being at the table

Talks have been delayed, and it is hard to envisage when full negotiation rounds will be resumed. With the deadline for requesting an extension due at the end of June, when the country could still be battling the deadly outbreak of coronavirus, the already tight timetable set by the UK Government now appears impossible to meet. It is not reasonable to think we can strike a good deal for the UK in this timeframe.

2. Economic

The economic impact of all forms of Brexit is likely to be negative, especially so in the case of a no-deal Brexit. The tight timetable, together with the distance between the UK and EU positions on key subjects such as ‘level playing field’ commitments, means the chances of a no-deal Brexit have risen considerably since the coronavirus outbreak began. Best for Britain FOIs of local authority risk registers last year suggested they were in a place to deal with one external shock, but could not weather two. With the economy almost certain to still be on its knees at the beginning of 2021, the structural changes forced on business by leaving the EU without a deal would be catastrophic and undermine current attempts to save it.

3. Protecting our public services

Similarly, it is not reasonable to think our public services can handle two economic shocks of this scale at the same time. A recent example was the need to release all stockpiled Protective Personal Equipment (PPE) to deal with coronavirus, despite it having been earmarked for a no-deal Brexit. Given the strain that will be put on these services over the next year to deal with coronavirus, it would be irresponsible to leave the UK open to an avoidable shock.