UK economy left in 'suspended animation' waiting for Boris Johnson's last-minute deal, CBI chief warns

Jon Stone
·2 min read
Lorries queue at Dover port (REUTERS)
Lorries queue at Dover port (REUTERS)

The British economy has been left in "suspended animation" while the government leaves striking a Brexit deal to the last minute, the head of the UK's leading employers' organisation has warned

The intervention by outgoing CBI boss Dame Carolyn Fairbairn comes as trade talks between the EU and UK continue in London despite the elapsing of a previous deadline set by Boris Johnson.

The president of the European Council meanwhile said the extended negotiations were entering their most "difficult" stage yet, and gave little indication of how long they might take.

Charles Michel said the EU would assess progress "in the next days or in the next weeks", stating: “We all know that in all negotiations, the last and final decisions are the most difficult. Will we get a deal? I don’t know".

Brussels and London have both privately resolved to avoid giving a running commentary on talks - an informal arrangement referred to as a "tunnel" in EU jargon. The aim of the policy is to give negotiators space to make decisions without having to grandstand for observers outside the room.

Members states are keeping a close eye on talks, responsibly for which they have deleted to the European Commission and its chief negotiator Michel Barnier.

Ireland's foreign minister Simon Coveney, who has played a leading role since the beginning of negotiations, said talks were in the "very serious zone" with a realistic timetable of 10 to 14 day.

Mr Coveney, who was speaking to the Irish Farmers' Journal, added: "We're likely to get a deal but it won't be easy."

Back in London CBI boss Dame Carolyn told the Guardian newspaper: “It [Brexit] has had a momentum of its own.

"It has been almost a perfect storm. The economy has gone into suspended animation while we resolve this seismic issue. I hope we can have a resolution so we can move on.”

She also rejected government suggestions that the UK would prosper under a no-deal, stating that an agreement would be "enormously better" than none.

EU negotiator Mr Barnier travelled to London on Thursday evening for talks which were originally schedule to be over the weekend. As of Wednesday he has not left, nor provided a substantial update on progress - signs which insiders read as good news for the prospects of a deal.

Speaking the start of this week, the prime minister's spokesperson said of negotiations: “There is also much work to be done if we’re going to bridge what are the significant gaps that remain between our positions in the most difficult areas and time is very short."

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