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Analysis

172 businesses say People’s Vote best way to stop ‘no deal’

by Hugo Dixon | 17.01.2019

Many businesses backed the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal despite knowing it was far from perfect. But now it is no longer an option, more and more are backing a People’s Vote.

Over a 170 business leaders have united today to sign a letter in The Times calling on both main party leaders in Westminster to support the campaign for a vote on the final Brexit deal. Many of the signatures had not previously backed the campaign.

A key part of their argument is that this is the only viable way to stop us crashing out of the EU. They are right. An alternative scheme being pushed by Nick Boles, the Tory MP, and supported by the Chancellor the Exchequer does not do the trick, as I argued in this column for InFacts.

The signatories to the letter include leading figures from the creative industries such as design guru Terence Conran and Norman Foster, the architect, and the bosses of the British Fashion Council, TV company Endemol Shine, advertising giant Havas, book publishers Hachette, and Aardman Animation, creators of Wallace and Gromit.

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They represent business from across the UK, from Gateshead to the West Country and from Wales to Scotland. They also include prominent female business leaders such as Martha Lane-Fox, the founder of Lastminute.com, and Laura Marshall MD of Icon Films.

The business leaders say: “The priority now is to stop us crashing out of the EU with no deal at all. The only viable way to do this is by asking the people whether they still want to leave the EU. With the clock now ticking rapidly before we are due to quit, politicians must not waste any more time on fantasies.”

Philip Hammond tried to reassure a businesses on a call on Tuesday night that we would not crash out by pointing to Boles’ scheme. Although summaries of the call had previously been circulated, the Telegraph has now published the transcript.

But the Chancellor failed to provide satisfaction for three reasons:

  • The government itself refuses to take “no deal” off the table.
  • He wrongly said that Boles’ draft legislation called for Article 50 to be “rescinded”. It merely says the government would be required to ask the other countries for a nine-month delay if Parliament can’t make up its mind what to do – and there’s little chance they’d agree to that. (See below)
  • He said we could revoke Article 50 unilaterally to buy extra time. This is untrue. The European Court of Justice made clear in December that we can only cancel our notice to quit the the EU if our decision is “unequivocal”. That condition will self-evidently not be met if we are still thinking of leaving.

The only sure way of getting extra time is to hold a People’s Vote. And it’s only if the people decide that they wish to stay in the EU that we should revoke Article 50.