Prime minister Theresa May is expected to try for a third time to win support for her Brexit deal next week after MPs voted to ask the EU to delay the UK’s exit.
She wants to get her deal approved before the 21st March summit of European leaders. This would limit any extension to the process to a matter of weeks.
If MPs vote down the deal for the third time, then the expectation is that the extension could be for up to two years, allowing a new approach to Brexit to be developed. It would also mean that the UK would have to hold elections to the European parliament, which are due to take place between 23rd and 26th May.
The vote to delay was described by the Confederation of British Industry as a “stay of execution”. Deputy director general Josh Hardie said: “Both main parties must make meaningful moves to find consensus, not simply double-down on their red lines or put hopes of power ahead of the country.”
Supply chain planning has all been around the UK leaving the European Union on 29th March, so delay at such a late stage could be disruptive – and potentially costly.
Government plans to increase freight capacity on the channel face disruption. For example, Brittany Ferries has already reorganised its schedules to add 19 weekly return sailings on three routes: Roscoff to Plymouth, Cherbourg to Poole and Le Havre to Portsmouth. This would increase freight capacity on those routes by 50 per cent from 29th March. There has been speculation in the media that the total additional cost could run into millions.
Motor manufacturer BMW said last year that it would temporarily close its Mini factory in Oxford in April to avoid supply chain disruption after Brexit day, and other motor manufacturers are understood to have put in place similar plans. Clearly such plans will need to be rethought in the light of any delay to Brexit.
SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said after parliament’s rejection of a no-deal Brexit: “Any extension of Article 50 must be purposeful and long enough to give business stability and Parliament time to reach consensus to end the deadlock.”