Dear United Kingdom Members of Parliament,
This letter is a direct plea at a time of increasing national crisis in the U.K.
Brexit is exhausting our business and wrecking the country’s tremendous reputation as an economic powerhouse. The U.K.’s historic stable political climate has facilitated huge investments from companies like Siemens over the years, and we are at risk of losing that critical pillar of economic stability. I know this view is held by many of my colleagues leading businesses here too.
As time has worn on, and with the prime minister’s deal defeated yet again on Friday, this political frenzy has moved us dangerously close to permanent damage for the U.K.
From the outside, it’s very difficult to follow the political ins and outs and the only certainty that remains is that failure to agree a deal or an alternative way forward before 12 April will lead to a hugely damaging no-deal Brexit. Many of you already know this.
The U.K. Office for National Statistics on Friday confirmed investment is in its worst slump since the last recession, and we already know 80% of businesses say Brexit has damaged investment decisions. Worse, the damage this is doing to the country’s hard-won reputation as a serious and stable place to do business is now all too real.
The world is watching, and where the U.K. used to be beacon for stability, we are now becoming a laughing stock. I personally can no longer defend the action of our parliament when reporting to my managing board, making it hard to win support for finely balanced investment decisions that in the end have an impact on U.K. jobs, innovation and the competitiveness of our activities here.
Multiply this by the many such conversations going on in company boards up and down the country with their often overseas investors, and this will not play out well for our economy.
What makes this worse is that the majority of MPs, and many sensible members of the government, understand these arguments. They have no desire to see the U.K. crash out and they know that we need to maintain a close economic and political relationship with the EU through a ‘softer’ Brexit.
Without compromise and action though, we will leave with no deal.
This will certainly lead to short-term economic turmoil, but my big worry is that in the long-term it will create irreparable damage, particularly to manufacturing, and high-tech sectors. That will cripple our hopes of competing in the fourth industrial revolution.
Business was broadly supportive of the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by Theresa May’s government, but it has been repeatedly and comprehensively rejected by parliament. The current approach has failed. It has been clear for weeks, that the only way that this will be resolved is through compromise between the government and parliament.
In this respect, the process of indicative votes which began last Wednesday and will continue on Monday, are a welcome opportunity to see if MPs can coalesce around a way forward. It was not entirely surprising that no clear favourite emerged at the first attempt, but on Monday Parliament must act decisively.
My own view, and following the first round of indicative votes, is that a majority could and should be found for a U.K.-EU customs union — the option that was closest to achieving a majority last week. It is an essential part of frictionless trade and saves businesses billions every year in pointless and unproductive customs declarations.
But this will mean that those MPs that favour a referendum or Norway-style deal, for example, will have to compromise. Ardent Brexiteers must also recognise that they do not have the votes in parliament to force a hard Brexit and must likewise agree concessions if they want to see any Brexit at all.
Parliament must now come together to find a majority view on the future relationship. The government must then respond positively and seek to amend the Political Declaration, and its policy for future negotiations.
It would be deeply irresponsible to simply let the clock run down and then present parliament with an eleventh hour choice of the government’s deal or no deal. If we get to that point the chances of a no-deal Brexit by accident would be dangerously high.
So, my message to MPs is simple. Enough is enough. We are all running out of patience. Make a decision and unite around a customs union compromise that delivers economic security and stability.
People’s livelihoods are at stake, and our reputation as a country for stable and sound business investments could be in tatters by the end of the week if you fail.
This is your last chance to come together to build a new consensus for Britain and then allow us to move on from Brexit, to the many other issues that need so desperately sorting in our country like our industrial strategy and skills agenda.
Please do not waste this critical week!
Juergen Maier CBE, CEO of Siemens UK
First published in Politico.eu