The CBI and counterparts from France, Germany and Italy will meet the prime minister at Downing Street on Monday to warn that taking much longer to negotiate a transition agreement could render it useless because companies will soon be forced to assume the worst about the terms of Britain’s departure from the EU.
The employers alliance behind the initiative, BusinessEurope, has expressed concern at the slow place of the Brexit talks.
“BusinessEurope urges both sides to make additional efforts and commit to reach a withdrawal agreement as early as possible in order to address the transition and future relations,” the director general, Markus Beyrer, said.
One business leader briefed on Monday’s talks said: “If we don’t get a transition deal agreed fairly soon, it’s not going to be very useful.”
Talks in Brussels remain deadlocked, with EU leaders demanding that Britain agree to the principle of a large financial settlement before it discusses future arrangements, and the UK insisting both be dealt with together.
Despite the commercial concerns, British ministers have intensified their brinkmanship by underlining the government’s intention to leave with or without a deal.
The government announced on Thursday night that it would table an amendment to its own EU withdrawal bill to include a reference to a fixed departure point of 11pm GMT (midnight in Brussels) on 29 March 2019.
The Brexit secretary, David Davis, said the amendment made it “crystal clear” that the UK intended to leave the EU on a specific date. “We’ve listened to members of the public and parliament and have made this change to remove any confusion or concern about what ‘exit day’ means,” he said.
It appears to be a move by May to reassert her authority and deter Conservative rebels from opposing the bill as it passes through parliament over the next month.
Writing in the Telegraph, the prime minister said: “We will not tolerate attempts from any quarter to use the process of amendments to this bill as a mechanism to try to block the democratic wishes of the British people by attempting to slow down or stop our departure from the European Union … We are leaving the European Union on 29 March 2019.”
The government faces a slew of hostile amendments to the bill from MPs across the House of Commons but has so far only agreed to the symbolic change of writing the date of departure on a front page that had previously left the date open.
“This important step demonstrates our pragmatic approach to this vital piece of legislation,” Davis said. “Where MPs can improve the bill, whatever their party, we will work with them. We look forward to further debate in the House of Commons when committee stage begins next week.”
Talks resumed in Brussels on Thursday without Davis or the EU chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, though the pair are expected to host a joint press conference on Friday.
Instead, Barnier gave a speech in Italy warning Britain against following a US-led race to the bottom. “When I hear the US secretary of commerce, Wilbur Ross, call in London for the British to diverge with Europe to better converge towards others; towards less regulation – environmental, sanitary, food, probably also financial, fiscal and social – I’m wondering,” Barnier said. “The United Kingdom has chosen to leave the European Union. Will it also want to move away from the European model? That’s another question.”