Businesses and no-deal

Questions to the Mayor of London – answered on 29th July 2019.

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Photo of Leonie Cooper Leonie Cooper Labour

Are London’s businesses prepared for a no-deal Brexit?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

Thank you, Chair. Most London businesses did not feel well prepared for a no-deal Brexit last March [2019]. Since then, we have continued to prepare to avert the very negative outcomes of no deal through initiatives like my Brexit Business Resource Hub.

Unfortunately, nothing looks any clearer the second time around as a no-deal Brexit looms again and the timing will be even worse if we leave with no deal on 31 October [2019]. It is just before the Christmas period, which is crucial to so much business. Brexit uncertainty has stalled business investment and productivity growth. United Kingdom (UK) manufacturers now warn of recession. Net migration from the European Union (EU) has fallen since the referendum and employers are finding it more and more difficult to recruit staff. While some larger companies have well prepared contingency plans, they are also pushing the button on factory closures, job losses and/or reverting to stockpiles.

The biggest worry is that most small businesses are not prepared at all. They simply do not have the resources to plan upfront. The shock they will face from a no-deal Brexit is very severe. Three years on from the referendum, we are no clearer as to how our would-be Prime Minister will lead the country out of the mess. They offer business a four-letter word or do or die or debunked nonsense about tariff-free trade. Our businesses deserve better.

The first priority of the new Prime Minister must be to put an end to the chaos and confusion of Brexit. In my view, this means revoking Article 50 and giving the British public the final say on Brexit. This is the only way to protect jobs, growth and prosperity for the next generation.

Photo of Leonie Cooper Leonie Cooper Labour

Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, recently said that businesses will be reliant on what governments are able to do to keep the ports open and to keep trade flowing. Are you confident that the next Prime Minister is going to be able to do this? The impact on London could be severe.

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

No, I am not. If anybody had a chance watch Newsnight last night, it was shocking and scary in relation to what they talked about. Even if we were able to control what happens on this side of the border, what about on the other side in Ireland? What about the other side in the Channel? Ours is a city of three ports. We have Heathrow [Airport], King’s Cross St Pancras and Tilbury Docks, which serves London as well. That is aside from the other issues.

I am really concerned. You will have seen the rehearsals around a motorway from Kent being used as a car park. I am really concerned about our preparedness for a no-deal situation. Fiona Twycross [AM, Deputy Mayor for Fire and Resilience] has done a lot of work chairing the London Resilience Forum, but we should be under no illusions that this will be extremely painful and extremely difficult.

Also, the worrying thing is, as I said in my original answer, that it comes just before Christmas. Many businesses make lots of profits at the Christmas period, which stands them in good stead for the rest of the year.  This is happening on 31 October [2019], six weeks before Christmas.  I am really worried.

Photo of Leonie Cooper Leonie Cooper Labour

We have heard a lot of talk from one of the potential Prime Ministers claiming that clauses 5(a), (b) and (c) of Article 24 of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade are going to help us if we leave without a deal. That relates to the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Do you actually think that this is going to help us?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

To be fair, he did not refer to (c). He only talked about (b). He did not realise that there was a (c).

Photo of Leonie Cooper Leonie Cooper Labour

That is right. That is the one he does not know about. Sorry.

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

Yes.  We have looked into which countries rely to trade solely on WTO terms. We could not find a country. We could not find a single country that relies solely on WTO terms because they have trade agreements. We have to be honest about this. When people say that it is possible to trade solely on WTO terms, it is not true. Nobody does it. You need trade agreements.

Secondly, even the reference you made to 5(a), (b) and (c) relies upon agreement from us and the EU. There are no guarantees about that going forward with the EU. That is a good example of big risks being taken on the future of our country.

By the way, the economy is what leads to us being able to afford police officer numbers or the NHS or teachers. Public services rely upon a vibrant economy.

Photo of Leonie Cooper Leonie Cooper Labour

Thank you, Mr Mayor.