Editorial: ‘Time has come for the UK and EU to signal a Brexit delay’

British Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
British Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: REUTERS/Francois Lenoir


Men and women in business face many risks and hazards. Those who persist never lack the courage to tackle the big challenges. Often they can cope with adversity but sometimes they cannot avoid succumbing.

The one thing business people rightly abhor, and struggle most to cope with, is total uncertainty. And the current state of non-play on Brexit brings us vastly more of this total uncertainty. The situation, with 46 days left to B-Day on March 29, leaves us all with few clues at all about what is happening and where this will land.

Business people on the islands of Ireland and Britain, and beyond on mainland Europe, cannot even guess what is happening next with little more than six weeks left. This is a flagrant abuse of enterprising people and their beleaguered employees and can no longer be tolerated.

The burden is heaviest for people in small and medium-sized enterprises, the engine room of the economy. They are left with the option of having to expend money and scarce time to put in place Brexit preparations which might not be needed.

Against that, they must weigh the risk of doing little to prepare for a no deal. It is a situation nobody should be obliged to face – much less the decent men and women who make things happen economically.

So, it is past time London and Brussels formally stated what is daily becoming the most likely outcome of this ghastly Brexit process: an extension beyond the deadline of March 29. Again, we must acknowledge that the UK government, and especially Theresa May, are most culpable here.

It is entirely up to London to formally seek such an extension. But, since the remaining EU 27 states must unanimously endorse such an extension application, Brussels also has obligations here to act and speak out.

The current vacuum means that millions of workers across the EU are deeply, and needlessly, worried about their futures. It is something all governments are hired by citizens to minimise – not make worse. It is part of the reason for the foundation and continued existence of the EU.

We know that Mrs May appears ready to push this one right to the brink in the hope of belated UK parliament ratification for a version of the Brexit deal she did with her EU counterparts on November 25 last. She and her supporters can argue that there are few other real options open to her. Some may even argue, in extremis, that from a business person’s viewpoint she is really on “the side of the angels” in taking such a drastic and high-stakes stance.

Key people in Brussels and the other EU capitals will lean again upon their well-worn argument that the next move must come from London. But that is to ignore their duty of care which is added to by other global economic storm clouds which are gathering.

It is time to acknowledge that there are limits to everything – especially the ongoing abuse of business people and their workers. Let’s speak plainly and own up to the need for postponement.

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