Time runs short for Brexit deal as business warns of pain

UK politicians will resume debating Theresa May’s apparently doomed Brexit deal on Friday, with fresh warnings over what’s at stake ringing in their ears.

After concerns were raised by Japan’s prime minister and the CBI, British Cabinet minister Amber Rudd underlined the damaging impact of leaving the EU in March without a new trade agreement in place, and hinted she could even quit over the issue.

“This is a strong and great country, we will find a way to succeed,” Rudd told BBC radio on Friday. “But I do not think that no deal will be good for this country and I am committed to making sure that we find an alternative.”

Rudd declined to answer when asked three times if she’d resign from the government if it pursued a no-deal Brexit.

According to The Guardian newspaper, CBI director general Carolyn Fairbairn will make a speech on Friday saying that a no-deal exit risks shrinking UK GDP by as much as 8%, and urging politicians to put jobs and the economy first.

The interventions seem unlikely to be enough to help May’s unpopular agreement pass Parliament when it’s put to a vote in the House of Commons on Tuesday. An analysis by the BBC on Thursday suggested May’s deal is on course to suffer the biggest government defeat in the history of the Commons in the vote on January 15.

A no-deal Brexit remains the default option if the Parliament doesn’t back May’s agreement on January 15, even though a majority of lawmakers supported a motion on Tuesday designed to reduce the chances of Britain tumbling out of the bloc on March 29. Such a scenario could trigger a recession with the pound falling by as much as 25%, official analysis suggests.

May held meetings with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in London on Thursday. Speaking afterward, Abe publicly backed May’s Brexit deal and offered his “deepest respect” for the work his British counterpart has done in securing an agreement with the European Union.

“We truly hope that a no-deal Brexit will be avoided and in fact, that is the whole wish of the whole world,” Abe said at a press conference in Downing Street.

“There is a good deal on the table and for those who want to avoid no deal, backing the deal is the thing to do,” May said at the press conference.

But May isn’t in full control of events.

Parliament is flexing its muscle and Cabinet ministers are also starting to raise their head above the parapet. Business Secretary Greg Clark said a no-deal Brexit should be ruled out. “We need to act to avoid a no-deal because I don’t think there is anything remotely like a majority in Parliament that will tolerate this,” he told BBC radio on Thursday.

The debate on the deal in Parliament resumes on Friday, with Home Secretary Sajid Javid and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt expected to lead the argument in favor of backing May’s package.

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