Theresa May caught in Brexit crossfire over lack of progress in negotiations

Alexandra Rogers
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British Prime Minister Attends The European Council
Theresa May was told to get tough with the EU by pro-Brexit groups (Source: Getty)

Theresa May is facing pressure from all corners after pro-Brexit and pro-EU business leaders wrote to her each urging progress in their separate visions for a trade deal.

Pro-Brexit business leaders urged May to speed up plans for a no-deal Brexit amid warnings that time for negotiating is running out.

The letter, signed by Brexiters including former chancellor Nigel Lawson, MP John Redwood, and Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin, say the UK should not be afraid to revert to a World Trade Deal under WTO rules if Brussels refuses a free trade deal.

Under WTO rules Britain would not have a preferential trade relationship with the EU and tariffs would be applied to all UK exports.

The government has consistently said it wants as "frictionless" a trade deal with the EU as possible.

Read more: Anti-Brexit campaigners descend on London to demand second referendum

In the letter, organised by the Economists for Free Trade (EFT) and seen by City A.M., the business leaders call on May to take an “assertive” approach at a crunch EU Council meeting in Brussels, and to repeat her mantra that “no deal is better than a bad deal”.

It said in light of the EU's "intransigent and punitive" stance to negotiations May needed to make clear that she would be prepared to crack on with preparations for a no deal.

"To have any real leverage in the Brexit endgame, the UK must reserve the right to walk away without a trade deal and take with it the £39bn it has offered to pay as part of a divorce settlement," it said. "This money covering the final years of the EU budget settlement must be contingent on our securing a satisfactory free trade deal. No trade deal, no money."

"In addition to the £39bn that the EU desperately needs to fill the hole in its budget, you have many things going for you. In spite of the doom-mongers, the UK economy is in rude health. The world is desperate for the UK to once again take up leadership for global free trade and free trade deals are on offer from our major trading partners."

The letter coincides with warnings from the other side of the table that a lack of progress in the negotiations was sending jitters throughout Britain's economy to the extent that many were considering pulling investment out of the country.

A separate letter by Pro-EU groups sent to May and the EU's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, said "the clock is ticking increasingly loudly and the business community is deeply concerned that time is running out".

It was signed by influential organisations including the British Chamber of Commerce, the EEF Manufacturers' Association, the Federation of Small Businesses and the Institute of Directors.

The most high profile sign of no confidence in May came from Airbus, which warned a no-deal Brexit could force it to quit the country, risking up to 100,000 jobs.

Airbus said the warning was not part of "project fear, but its "dawning reality".

Its chief operating officer for commercial aircraft said it needed "immediate details on the pragmatic steps that should be taken to operate competitively", which the negotiations were not granting.

“Without these, Airbus believes that the impacts on our UK operations could be significant. We have sought to highlight our concerns over the past 12 months, without success. Far from ‘Project Fear’, this is a dawning reality for Airbus. Put simply, a no-deal scenario directly threatens Airbus’s future in the UK.”

Read more: Brexit: Airbus threatens to pull out of UK if no deal reached

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