CBI chief calls for second Brexit referendum if MPs can't 'get their act together'

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Another EU referendum should be held if MPs are unable to “get their act together” and sign off a Brexit deal, the president of the CBI has insisted.

Speaking after the EU granted a second delay to the UK’s withdrawal from the organisation, John Allan said going back to the public could well be the only way to break the Brexit deadlock

Allan, who is also chairman of Tesco, insisted he was speaking a personal capacity and the CBI as an organisation did not have a position on another referendum.

His comments came as leading members of the business community urged MPs not to squander the extra time granted to secure a deal - with many concerned the extension to 31 October could just leave to another cliff edge moment.

Speaking to the BBC, Allan said: “My personal view is if the politicians can't get their act together and get to an agreement the only other option is to go back to the people and have a second referendum to see whether people still feel the same way now that they did almost three years ago and resolve it that way.

"One way or the other we have just got to break out of this impasse that we've got at the moment and get agreement.”

Support for another referendum also came from techUK chief executive Julian David, which represents around 800 UK technology firms.

David warned that while the delay meant digital businesses no longer have to brace for an imminent no deal Brexit, the extension is not long enough to “reduce the need for no deal stockpiling or increase investor confidence.”

He added: “The best way to lift uncertainty continues to be Parliament finding a suitable solution to the Brexit impasse. Leaders from all parties should continue to seek an agreement that supports our entire economy, including our world leading digital services.

"All options, including a confirmatory referendum, should be on the table.

“Anything other than finding a way through the current mess will simply ensure that both politicians and business leaders are unable to refocus on the issues that truly matter to supporting the rapidly growing firms of the future.”

Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said businesses welcomed the “flextension” approach - whereby the UK can leave the EU before 31 October if the withdrawal agreement is signed off by parliament.

However, MPs must not “squander” the extra time granted by the EU, he said, adding: “It would be a disaster for business confidence and investment if a similar late-night drama is played out yet again in October.”

Echoing the call for a quick resolution to the Brexit negations was Catherine McGuinness, policy chair at the City of London Corporation.

She said: “Day by day, as uncertainty persists, so does the threat of more businesses moving jobs and operations away from the UK. It is vital that politicians in the UK and EU come together to agree a withdrawal deal that puts people and business first and provides much needed certainty.

“Only then can we move on to the critical negotiations around our future relationship with the European Union. This should involve securing maximum market access, keeping Britain open to global talent and developing a framework for the UK to prosper in the years ahead. Above all, we must recognise the vital contribution of the services sector to a thriving economy.”

Theresa May told MPs on Thursday the UK can avoid taking part in the upcoming European elections in May if the withdrawal deal is passed by Parliament before May 23.