Amber Rudd: The Tories owe business an apology for Brexit chaos

The Conservative Party was returned to Government in 2015 and 2017 in large part thanks to our unwavering support for the business community.

I’m afraid to say we owe that community an apology for not continuing that tradition. Since 2016 they’ve been mired in uncertainty while we have searched for a Brexit solution.

One month it was a Norway model, the next it was Canadian, then it was no deal, then it was Chequers, then the withdrawal agreement, and now, another month, more proposals.

Last night I addressed the CBI leaders’ summit at J P Morgan — where I started my career — and the frustration in the room was palpable. Sadly, this is exactly what you’d expect when business is offered two ghastly enterprise-killing menus from the main political parties.

Stick with the Conservatives and, with no deal, you risk crippling tariffs, free trade routes being blockaded, and no economic certainty for five years. Go with Jeremy Corbyn and it’s sky-high taxes, profit-stripping and more regulation for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

And, as we look set to hurtle towards that no-deal Brexit, it’s no wonder that most British boards expect the UK economy to deteriorate over the next 12 months, as shown by a recent survey.

I quit the Government last month, as I explained to Standard readers, because I saw such little evidence of a deal being planned. I am therefore not surprised that the new Government proposals have been met with such a lukewarm response in Brussels.

We did not put the same time, thought and effort into getting a deal as we did into preparing for no deal. We’re now only talking about a deal because Parliament sprung into action with legislation.

The consequence? More uncertainty, potentially more delay, and the prospect of a constitutional clash that scriptwriters couldn’t make up. It is not the backdrop that businesses deserve as they look to 2020. So what’s the next step?

I hope all businesses will be more frank with MPs about the consequences of no deal. Explain why taxes where none existed and a weaker pound are bad, and that no amount of preparation can help.

The Government also has to seriously engage with Brussels on credible proposals. The current outline — which has stalled, by the looks of things — would create havoc for Northern Irish business, because every four years they would face new uncertainty on their customs arrangements, with the Stormont lock.

I’m also worried this issue of consent will become a proxy referendum, weaponised by both sides as a reason to pursue their favoured outcome. By creating a situation where every four years Northern Ireland must decide to follow Europe and Ireland or Great Britain, we make a full-on referendum much more likely.

F*** business might have been a gut reaction in a moment of bad temper, but it has no place in a serious One Nation government.

Amber Rudd is a former Conservative Cabinet minister

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