Leading City and political figures have rounded on the Conservatives over their “disastrous” handling of Brexit, warning that Britain risks ending up with the “worst of leave and the worst of remain”.
With just 200 days remaining until Britain quits the European Union, the prospect of a no-deal Brexit continues to spell acute economic uncertainty for the country – with growth and investment held back, and businesses putting into motion drastic contingency plans that will affect thousands of workers.
Roland Rudd, founder and chairman of public relations giant Finsbury, told the Press Association: “Brexit is a complete and utter mess. The list of broken promises grows by the day and the risk of a disastrous no-deal Brexit is increasing all the time.
“We already know that the huge uncertainty created by Brexit is acting as a significant drag on the economy, and that the significant fall in the value of the pound since the referendum in 2016 has led to a real squeeze on the cost of living for people up and down the country. And that’s before we’ve even left.”
Mr Rudd, who chairs Open Britain, also lambasted Prime Minister Theresa May for knowingly making Britons poorer by yanking the country out of the single market.
“That is not what anyone voted for in 2016,” he said.
The Tories are still at loggerheads over what they would like Destination Brexit to resemble in terms of trade, regulatory convergence and immigration, with Mrs May’s so called “Chequers” blueprint rubbished by several of her own MPs.
But as the Government dithers, London-based banks – including Goldman, JP Morgan and HSBC – have started pushing the button on Brexit contingency plans that will diminish the City as a global financial centre.
Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, who was highly critical of the EU during the country’s sovereign debt crisis, warned that Brexit Britain is on course to occupy the “worst of all worlds”.
He told PA: “Brexit is the worst possible process. We currently have the worst of all worlds, the worst of leave and the worst of remain.
“We will end up with a postponement of decisions until 2021, it will be a typical fudge and the UK will continue making EU budget payments.”
Business lobby groups have also expressed concern that time is running out.
Allie Renison, head of trade policy at the Institute of Directors, said: “While the Government has stressed that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, they should be mindful of the fact that an 11th-hour deal increases the number of firms activating contingency plans earlier on.
“Transition is a diminishing asset the longer it takes for the future arrangements to become clear.”
Miles Celic, chief executive at TheCityUK, has called for urgent work to be done around financial services.
Much of the Brexit debate has centred on goods, but the services sector is by far the biggest component of the British economy and it stands to be crushed in the event of no deal.
According to the Government’s own analysis, Britons visiting the EU could be slapped with millions of pounds in surprise credit and debit card charges, while UK immigrants living in Europe face the possibility of losing access to their pension income in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
“We need to see progress on financial services in particular, the debate has been dominated by goods,” Mr Celic said.
“There are at least 36 million contracts – 30 million in the EU – and we need private and public sector to come together.
“There will have to be a period of adaptation.”
The Cabinet Office declined to comment.