Companies have to comment on a second Brexit referendum

The British economy has tried to play a constructive role in Brexit. Following Parliament's decision to trigger Article 50 after the 2016 referendum, we worked with the government to ensure that the enormous complexity and economic risks were understood and reasonably planned.

After 45 years in the EU and the consistent integration of our economies to support the largest single market in the world, we assumed that common sense would prevail. This would clearly have required a reasonable transitional period, while Britain felt that it was as close as possible to the bloc – preferably in the Customs Union and the Internal Market for a period of five to ten years. This would have allowed sufficient time to cope with the enormous complexities of trade agreements on supply chains, skills, research, transport and the National Health Service.

While such a compromise would be sub-optimal, it would be compared to full membership of the EU as companies would have been willing to support such an offer. But here we are clearly not. The UK is risking an extremely bad deal or deal that most commentators believe would be extremely catastrophic in economic and political terms, as well as a significant risk to peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland.

It is also clear that the prospectus proposed by the Brexit campaign for 2016 is simply not offered. We have already paid a high economic price for lost investments and influence. Transition from one of the fastest growing G7 economies to one of the slowest. Prime Minister Theresa May is clearly doing her best to avoid a no-deal scenario. However, the seemingly emerging compromise solutions would cause considerable damage to the economy over time.

In reality, the May administration will not reach a final agreement by this time. The best thing that can be achieved is a divorce settlement that effectively keeps the United Kingdom for 21 months after our departure in the Internal Market and in the Customs Union. No company can make long-term investments based on a 21-month horizon.

From March 30 next year, companies will face significant uncertainties, including a possible extension of the transitional period and whether and how long a backstop will be used to avoid border controls in Ireland. The rules we operate on may change more than once – and we will no longer have much influence on it. The only thing that is clear is that it will be worse than our current deal in the EU.

The various parliamentary groups will continue to disagree on who should be in charge and where the country should go – and in the meantime, trade negotiations will continue for years to come. This is a recipe for further investment loss and economic stagnation or worse. Some believe that the prospect of going without a degree is so catastrophic that they should rely on any deal that avoids this scenario. However, it seems unlikely that a majority in parliament would vote for "no deal".

MEPs may be stuck in the upcoming "meaningful vote" of a Brexit deal. The British people must have the choice to stay in the EU and to go on terms that Ms. May has negotiated. This avoids the risk that the EU will leave without agreement.

As a first step, the Government should ask Brussels to extend the withdrawal date for Article 50 so that we can have another referendum. There is every indication that the EU would agree. We tend to forget that 64 percent of the total electorate and the overwhelming majority of young people who voted did not vote for resignation. With so much at stake, the "People's Vote" is the only answer, as former Secretary Jo Johnson wrote in his eloquent resignation statement.

The economy is an important part of society. The law requires that companies disclose questions to their stakeholders that affect investment, profitability and employment. Of course, people have the right to vote, but they also have the right to receive facts, options and risks. The nation must now have the choice that these questions are clearer, which will be an irreversible decision. Under these circumstances, the company has the right and the duty to express itself. That's why we're launching the Business Campaign this week to give people a final say.

The author is a former president of the CBI and chairman of BT

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