UK plc wants end to Brexit ‘Soap Opera’

CBI president will appeal for a ‘single, clear strategy’ in its annual conference today


LONDON • UK business called for an end to the “soap opera” of Brexit and a return to the spirit of national unity last seen in World War II as it pushed for certainty on Britain’s future relationship with the European Union (EU).

Confederation of British Industry (CBI) president Paul Drechsler (picture) will appeal for a “single, clear strategy” in an address today to the CBI’s annual conference in London.

He won’t shy away from criticism of Prime Minister Theresa May, with a stringent rebuke for her “episodic approach” to negotiating Brexit, according to emailed excerpts of his planned remarks.

“I’m reminded of a primetime soap opera, with a different episode each week,” Drechsler will say, before listing the premier’s Brexit interventions. “First Lancaster House, then Article 50, the European Council, two dinners with Juncker — and no doubt many exciting instalments to follow. Each one becomes the Big Story, until the next one rolls around.”

Britain faces a steady drumbeat of warnings from business about the need for certainty as the clock ticks down to March 2019, when Britain will leave the EU — with or without a deal.

Bank of England governor Mark Carney said last Thursday that Brexit is the biggest determinant of the UK economic outlook. Companies are holding back investment decisions as they wait to find out how Brexit will pan out, and banks including Goldman Sachs Group Inc and UBS AG are preparing to move workers to mainland Europe.

The CBI gathering is taking place across the River Thames from Canary Wharf, a reminder to politicians of one of the industries most affected by Brexit. The venue has views of skyscrapers housing banks including Citigroup Inc, Barclays plc and HSBC Holdings plc.

If the UK fails to strike an EU deal, Brexit may cost 75,000 jobs in banking and insurance, Britain’s top banking regulator, Sam Woods, told lawmakers last Wednesday. Deutsche Bank AG may move about 4,000 positions to Frankfurt and Berlin due to Brexit, UBS Group will start moving London-based employees to expanded offices inside the EU next year, and Goldman Sachs Group CEO Lloyd Blankfein has signalled on Twitter in recent weeks that he’ll be spending more time in Frankfurt, and may not fill all the desks at the bank’s new London offices.

According to CBI survey data released yesterday, some 10% of companies have started implementing their plans for a “no-deal scenario”, by March, that will rise to 60%.