British Businesses Worried as More UK Brexit Leaders Walk Out

Thursday, August 15th, 2019

UK business owners worst fear of an exodus of Brexit officials is coming true. More and more senior UK government officials are walking out on key Brexit roles, potentially leaving the country ill-prepared to leave the EU without a deal in October. Early this month, the Brexit Department confirmed that two more senior officials had walked out – just days before a new prime minister enters Downing Street later this month.

Boris Johnson, former London mayor and a leading Brexit campaigner, caused quite the stir when he pulled out of the Conservative leadership race. This announcement came as a shock, since he had been considered a favourite to replace David Cameron as party leader and prime minister. Before he announced his plans to walk away, he had vowed to leave the EU with or without a deal on October 31.

Likewise, UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage has also resigned. The reason given was that he wanted his “life back”. He feels that he has successfully fulfilled his political ambition of putting the UK on a path to exit the EU. Leading up to this, Mr. Farage clashed repeatedly with Mr. Junker, a Brussels veteran and one of the architects of EU integration.

“The Brexit heroes of yesterday are now the sad Brexit heroes of today,” Mr. Junker told the European Parliament. “Patriots don’t resign when things get difficult, they stay.”

“Instead of developing the plan, they are leaving the boat,” he said.

The government’s lead official in charge of coordinating border policy, Karen Wheeler, has also quit her role at Her Majesty’s Revenue and Custom’s earlier this month. Director General Sara Healey has yet to be replaced after she left a year ago. In addition, since March 29 (the UK’s original planned Brexit date) the Department of Exiting the European Union has lost two director-level officials: Chris Jones and Hugh Elliot.

UK businesses fear the future

The industry body – representing the UK’s millions of smaller firms – expressed its concerns over the current situation; their fear is that the government will struggle to coordinate no-deal preparations if key Brexit officials continue to walk out at such a critical time.

“Government must now reinvigorate no-deal preparation from both public agencies and the private sector, and they will struggle if they continue to lose expert officials,” said Craig Beaumont, director of external affairs and advocacy at the Federation of Small Businesses.

An executive working on Brexit for a major international firm said it is “scary” that so many director-level civil servants need to be replaced with less than four months until the country could leave the EU with no deal. “You have to learn who your team are, who can be relied on to do what, what’s been tried before,” they explained.

Meanwhile, businesses heeded the government warnings about no-deal Brexit, stockpiling goods and rerouting trade – only to find out Brexit had been delayed. Now, businesses face a big dilemma. Do they invest in the same costly measures for the new date?
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