In Parliament yesterday, MPs voted on a series of proposed amendments to the Brexit withdrawal agreement. Some were successful, including Sir Graham Brady’s bid to seek “alternative arrangements” to replace the Irish backstop. This positive result gives Theresa May the green light to return to Brussels for further negotiations. A vote against a no-deal Brexit was also successful.

Meanwhile, Dominic Grieve’s amendment to allow MPs to take control of the Commons for six individual days in the run-up to the UK's scheduled withdrawal date of 29 March was defeated. Yvette Cooper’s bid for Parliament to take control of the Brexit process if Theresa May did not secure a deal by 26 February was also unsuccessful.

Key business groups including the Chamber of Commerce and the Federation of Small Businesses have voiced their frustration at Parliament’s slow progress on reaching a final agreement with the EU.

  • Although they regard the vote against a no-deal Brexit as positive, the fact that it doesn’t have any force in law means that this cannot be confirmed.
  • They have also voiced concern that there will be no delay to the UK leaving the EU on 29 March 2019 which means there are only 58 days to agree the conditions of separation.
  • Businesses also face further uncertainty following the EU’s response that they will not renegotiate the Irish backstop in the withdrawal agreement, despite MPs backing this amendment.

Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said:

“Another day lost while the clock is ticking. Government and Parliament are still going round in circles when businesses and the public urgently need answers. The real-world result of Westminster’s interminable wrangling is market uncertainty, stockpiling, and the diversion of staff, money and investment. The net result of this displacement activity and uncertainty is slow but very real damage to the UK economy.”

Mike Cherry, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, commented:

“By passing the Spelman-Dromey amendment, Parliament has formally echoed the voice of small businesses that a no deal exit in 59 days’ time is not an option. The amendment does not have any force in law, so a no-deal Brexit on 29 March isn’t off the table yet. This vote cannot simply be a symbolic one, we need government and parliament redoubled efforts to prevent it.

Small businesses are not ready, and the country is not ready for this scenario. Tonight has seen a small but significant step that shows Parliament falling into line with the UK small business community, which is a small relief. However, we cannot lose sight of the reality that we are still no closer to securing a pro-business deal before 29 March.”

In response to Theresa May’s announcement that she will renegotiate changes to the withdrawal agreement, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, the Irish PM, said:

“The European Union, including Ireland, stands by the Withdrawal Agreement including the protocol and backstop relating to Ireland. A renegotiation is not on the table. There's no plans to organise an emergency summit to discuss any changes to the guidelines. Nor is there any pressure to hold one.”

Victoria Holland, corporate and commercial partner at B P Collins, said:

“It’s imperative that UK businesses protect their operations against the very real possibility of a chaotic exit from the EU. Please get in touch with our Brexit team for more advice.”

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