UK business chief warns next PM against no-deal Brexit

London (AFP) –


The successor to British Prime Minister Theresa May must rule out a "no-deal" Brexit, the head of Britain's main business lobby group urged Friday, warning again of "severe" economic consequences.

Carolyn Fairbairn, head of the Confederation of British Industry, issued the warning as the total number of Conservative MPs vying to replace May reached twelve.

Brexit dominates the battle to replace May, who was brought down by her failure to take Britain out of the European Union on March 29 as planned. The nation is now scheduled to leave at the end of October.

"The next prime minister can only claim the Conservatives are the party of business if they secure a Brexit deal that protects the economy, jobs and living standards," Fairbairn wrote in an open letter to the twelve leadership hopefuls.

"Firms large and small are clear that leaving the EU with a deal is the best way forward.

"Short-term disruption and long-term damage to British competitiveness will be severe if we leave without one."

The CBI -- Britain's biggest employers' organisation representing some 190,000 companies -- has repeatedly warned that a no-deal withdrawal could spark a fresh economic downturn.

However, rival leadership candidates including former foreign secretary Boris Johnson and former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab have said that Britain must be prepared to leave the EU without an agreement.

"The vast majority of firms can never be prepared for no-deal, particularly our SME (small and medium enterprise) members who cannot afford complex and costly contingency plans," added Fairbairn in the letter.

"We need compromise, consensus and honesty to resolve the Brexit impasse, quickly.

"Prolonged uncertainty is damaging our economy now -- driving up costs and reducing sales. Stockpiling of raw materials and goods among SMEs is at a record high."

She added: "Billions of pounds in investment are being diverted from the economy, harming future jobs and prosperity.

"The CBI urges the next prime minister to build their approach to Brexit from the bottom up -- from the clear, detailed evidence of firms, on the ground, managing the day-to-day implications for jobs."