Business leader warns a no-deal Brexit after coronavirus like ‘setting alight shed while house on fire’

CBI Director General, Carolyn Fairbairn speaks at the annual Confederation of British Industry (CBI)

CBI Director General, Carolyn Fairbairn speaks at the annual Confederation of British Industry (CBI) conference in central London; ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images) - Credit: AFP/Getty Images

A business leader has issued a stark warning that thousands of British businesses face going under if Brexit talks end in stalemate.

The outgoing head of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), Carolyn Fairbairn, said that firms simply could not contend with the effects of the coronavirus and a possible no-deal Brexit.

Speaking to the BBC, Fairbairn said that business would struggle to cope with new tariffs and customs paperwork while simultaneously dealing with the economic impacts of the coronavirus.

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She called walking away from talks empty handed was like 'setting fire to the garden shed' after a house fire.

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'As one member put it to me - just because the house is on fire, it doesn't make it ok to set fire to the garden shed.'

She added: 'Small businesses were not ready last time there was a no-deal Brexit threat - this time they will not have had a moment to prepare for it.'

The business leader said firms said a no-deal Brexit would 'worsen inequalities' and end up 'damaging regional and national growth'.

'Many businesses are not – and cannot – prepare for the impact of a no deal on top of what is happening,' she said.

'The resilience of British business is absolutely on the floor. Every penny of cash that had been stored up, all the stockpiles prepared have been run down.

'The firms that I speak to have not a spare moment to plan for a no trade deal Brexit at the end of the year - that is the common sense voice that needs to find its way into these negotiations.'

MORE: Michael Gove says it is not possible to have a no-deal Brexit

The CEO of pro-EU group Best for Britain, Naomi Smith, said it was a 'really big statement'.

She said: 'The CBI have been relatively quiet on the matter of extending the transition period, so this is a really big statement.

'The data on this is clear - vast areas of the North and Midlands would be severely exposed to a double whammy of coronavirus and the UK not having a deal in place at the end of the year.

'It is mutually beneficial for the UK and the EU to agree an extension so that businesses and communities have more time to recover from a bruising few months. It is the government's duty not to make that job harder than it already is.'

The government has ruled out any chance of an extension to Brexit negotiations. A government spokesperson said: 'We've been clear that we want to reach an agreement with the EU this year and we are prepared to work hard to accelerate talks. This was what both sides agreed to in the political declaration.

'If we don't negotiate a Canada-style FTA [free trade agreement], we'll leave with an Australia-style relationship. Whatever happens we will be leaving the single market and customs union at the end of this year.'

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