THE owner of a successful and fast-growing business in my constituency of Leeds West contacted me recently because of his fears about Brexit.
The biggest threat to his firm, he said, was the political indecision around Brexit and its crippling impact on his ability to plan properly because of his company’s reliance on weekly imports from Europe.
Like so many other businesses and millions of people across the region and the country, he desperately wants an end to this uncertainty.
Last week, Ford stepped up its warnings of a no-deal Brexit and said it would have to take a “long hard look” at its UK operations if that happened.
Steven Armstrong, the boss of Ford Europe which employs almost 13,000 people in the UK, said anything that led to tariffs or delays at borders would be a “disaster” for the company and the motor industry.
He said that it could cost the firm up to a billion dollars a year and the Government should do everything it could to get a deal ensuring frictionless trade – or that Ford would have to “consider seriously the long-term future of our investments in the country”.
We also heard a similar warning from the UK chief executive of Siemens who said Britain was at risk of “trashing its fabulous relationship with the rest of Europe” because of its failure to agree a Brexit deal.
Describing the situation as “crisis point”, Jurgen Maier said the Government had to find a way forward and restore trust so businesses once again had the confidence to invest in the UK.
The Brexit fears among unions who represent millions of workers are no different. Tim Roache, the general secretary of the GMB union, has made clear that a no-deal Brexit would be “an absolute economic disaster”. He is right, as he was when he warned that we must not allow the Government to put the needs of the Tory Party ahead of the best interests of the country.
There is no doubt that finding a solution and avoiding a catastrophic cliff-edge Brexit will require compromise.
That’s why last Monday in the House of Commons I voted for all four options to break the Brexit deadlock. Unfortunately, none of those alternatives to Theresa May’s fatally flawed deal secured enough votes to get a majority.
The next attempt to break the impasse saw Theresa May belatedly open talks with Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour team, while I joined the MPs backing a Bill to force the Prime Minister to seek a new delay to Brexit.
The Bill, spearheaded by my friend and fellow Yorkshire MP Yvette Cooper, was passed by a majority of one vote in the Commons last Wednesday.
It means that Theresa May will not have the power at the planned EU emergency summit on Wednesday to agree a deal with EU leaders because MPs would have to agree any new Brexit date.
As I write, we are due to leave the EU on Friday and there is still no withdrawal deal in place. The fact that Theresa May and her Government have allowed us to end up here is not a “negotiating strategy” – it is criminally irresponsible.
To add to the Prime Minister’s woes, there are rumours swirling around Westminster that more Ministers are getting ready to follow Selby and Ainsty MP Nigel Adams who quit his role as a Minster for Wales and Government whip last week, along with Brexit Minister Chris Heaton-Harris.
Theresa May has said she wants to agree a policy with Labour ahead of that EU emergency summit. But if a consensus cannot be reached, she has said she will allow MPs to vote on a number of options.
The Prime Minister wrote to the EU yesterday asking for a further extension to Brexit until June 30 in the hope of getting a deal agreed before May 22 so that the UK does not have to take part in European elections on May 23.
It also emerged yesterday that Donald Tusk, the European Council president, is proposing to offer the UK a “flexible” extension of up to 12 months – which would need to be ratified by EU leaders at next week’s summit.
Amid all this uncertainty, I am more certain than ever that it is imperative that we avoid a no-deal Brexit. I am continuing to support the efforts to avoid that and the damage it would cause our economy.
I fervently hope a compromise can be reached to end this chaos. But I am convinced that so much has changed since the 2016 referendum that any deal must be put to the people.
Contrary to what some have suggested this does not mean a simple rerun of the vote that took place almost three years ago. This would be a confirmatory referendum, asking the people whether they are happy with the deal – or not.
A huge amount has changed since we embarked on this Brexit journey. Now they have been tested and scrutinised, so many of the promises made by Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and their allies have been exposed as nothing more than empty slogans.
The next few days are crucial to the future of our country. If a deal is agreed, it is absolutely vital that the public get to vote on the most important decision the country has faced for decades.
Rachel Reeves is Labour MP for Leeds West. She also chairs Parliament’s Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee.