By Andrew Denniff, chief executive of Rotherham Chamber of Commerce
AS the latest round of Brexit negotiations end in stalemate, the recovery from Covid-19 this autumn may be stalled just as Britain comes out of the European Union with a no-deal Brexit.
Surely common sense tells us that Brexit must be postponed, to avoid manufacturers and retailers suffering a huge slump in demand, just as we begin to emerge from this current crisis.
The ongoing, almost anonymous round of EU/UK negotiations finished with little agreement, increasing the real possibility of a no-deal hard Brexit, as we head out the challenges of the Covid-19 epidemic.
Retailers and businesses are facing a potential “perfect storm” as the UK could crash out of the EU just as we begin to return to some semblance of normality, with both overseas and domestic sales facing devastation.
Brexit talks have ended with the UK having made very little progress towards agreement on the most significant outstanding issues, with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier confirming little progress had been made, and both sides positions are “very divergent” on key areas.
Surely it is time for the UK to agree to an extension to negotiations - leaving the EU without a deal in January would sound a potential death knell for many manufacturers and retailers.
Negotiations this month have been conducted by video link and ended in acrimony with the EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier saying progress has been disappointing.
“Why should we help British businesses promote their services in Europe, when we have no guarantee our businesses will get similar treatment in the UK?” he asked.
The timing of negotiations is reaching a cliff edge.
Both sides are due to decide legally by the end of June whether the current deadline for negotiating an agreement should be extended beyond the end of December, but the UK is already insisting it will not agree to any move, even if the EU requests one.
There is potentially a financial disaster and it is time to end political posturing and face reality with the chance of any recovery plans foundering on Britain's departure in January.
It will mean a double hit to domestic and overseas sales when we have already been battered from this year's events.
Even knowing this, the government is insisting there can be no extension to Brexit negotiations, even though both sides concede there has been only “limited progress” so far.
Discussions are due to resume in June, but in reality, an extension to negotiations, in the light of this unprecedented global crisis, seems not only prudent, but absolutely essential.