October 1, 2019 / 3:41 PM / 21 days ago

REFILE-UPDATE 1-Never mind the politics, get a Brexit deal done, says UK business

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By William James

MANCHESTER, England, Oct 1 (Reuters) - Prime Minister Boris Johnson needs to make his priority getting a Brexit deal to protect the economy, rather than wooing voters with a political promises, business groups attending the Conservative Party conference said.

Less than a month until Britain is due to leave the European Union, Johnson’s Conservative Party conference in Manchester is festooned with a three word slogan that encapsulates his approach to leaving the European Union: “Get Brexit Done”.

He wants a deal with the European Union to smooth Britain’s exit from the bloc next month, but if he can’t get one in time he wants to leave on Oct. 31 anyway - a prospect that has the many in the business community on edge.

“The message from business to government is clear: get a Brexit deal done,” said Claire Walker, Co-Executive Director of the British Chambers of Commerce.

The traditionally centre-right Conservative Party has long used its annual gathering of members, sponsors and donors to promote itself as the party of business, a pledge to set it apart from the leftist opposition Labour Party.

But this year in Manchester, with a party and electorate deeply split over Brexit, and an early election on the horizon, that focus has shifted onto a promise to get out of the EU, prioritising an end to over three years of political crisis.

That is at odds with what businesses represented by major lobbying groups want. They say the possibility of leaving the EU without a deal is casting a long shadow over the economy, deterring investment and driving activity overseas.

“Businesses are adamant that a Brexit deal remains their top priority. The economic fall-out from a no deal scenario would be severe,” said Matthew Fell, Chief UK policy director at the Confederation of British Industry.

Pessimism in British businesses rose in the three months to September to the highest level in almost eight years, a survey on Sunday showed.

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Britain has been this close to Brexit before.

Ahead of an earlier exit deadline in March, subsequently missed because parliament refused to sanction a deal negotiated by Johnson’s predecessor, firms racked up costs stockpiling components in case of disruption to supply line.

This time round, the same thing is happening, according to recent surveys.

Even though Johnson has placed more emphasis on planning and preparation for a no deal, spending millions on information campaigns aimed at businesses large and small, firms say they don’t have the details they need.

“We’re already seeing the economic impact of the relentless uncertainty in the form of sluggish growth and anaemic business investment – unsurprising given firms have no clarity on what conditions they’ll face in a mere matter of weeks,” Walker said.

“The focus of Westminster should be on the practicalities not the politics.”

Still, there is a cost.

“More businesses are prepared than before, but that does not mean that they are protected from a no deal outcome, especially small firms. And the actions being taken are not positives for the economy,” said Fell.

“Firms have been spending billions of pounds on contingency plans and shifting supply chains, which could be spent on new investments, innovation and jobs.” (Reporting by William James; editing by Guy Faulconbridge)

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