May suffered a historic defeat yesterday when MPs voted against the bill by 432 votes to 202.
With the Prime Minister now facing a vote of no confidence that she is expected to win, printing industry leaders were left increasingly frustrated.
Andrew Large, director general at the Confederation of Paper Industries, said: “I am dismayed at the inability of the political establishment to give clarity, only two-and-a-half months before the statutory date of departure from the EU. The opportunity cost of this political crisis is already acting as a damaging drag on UK business competitiveness and this will continue to hit jobs and growth until it is resolved.”
BPIF chief executive Charles Jarrold described the result as “predictable and shambolic”.
“Incompatible and irreconcilable commitments were bound to result in a crunch point. It is anyone’s guess what happens next,” he said.
“However, given the short time to 29 March, and the distance we seem to be away from an acceptable way forwards, trying to get more time to work this through would make sense. A pause on Article 50, but whether there’s the political will, and whether this would be acceptable to the EU27 is debatable. Too much trust has been deliberately sacrificed for little apparent gain, and, as a result, MPs now need to make some tough and probably very unpopular decisions. That requires cool heads and a real focus on the national (rather than party) interest,” Jarrold stated.
Unite national officer Louisa Bull said that the “unprecedented scale of the defeat” showed how clearly May had got things wrong.
“The Prime Minister should step down and a General Election should be called as the no confidence vote will be defeated but there is clearly no support for the deal,” she said.
Bull said that, while hoping for a General Election and Labour victory, Unite was continuing to prepare for a “worst-case scenario” no-deal Brexit. “Where we can we are working with employers looking at contingency plans so that the supply chain and exports kept flowing.”
Print company bosses were in the main frustrated at the continuing uncertainty.
Walstead Group chief executive Paul Utting said: “The key thing going forward is whether Theresa May is capable of working towards a parliamentary majority for any of the options available. On the basis that there is no possibility of ‘no deal’ going through parliament a move towards a ‘Norway’ option or a second referendum look likely although predictions are very hard to make in this febrile environment.
“From a business perspective, remaining in the EU or at least in the Customs Union and Single Market is undoubtedly the best outcome and ‘no deal’ would be chaos. Let’s hope that the Prime Minister now listens to the views of others and starts to bring people together but on past form she is likely to find that difficult!”
Gary White, managing director at Belfast-based Northside Graphics and digitalprinting.co.uk said: “Whether you’re a leaver or a remainer, within business all anyone wants to know is what’s happening so I can make a decision. I’m hoping they have a cross-party alliance to move forward, and then a decision is made and we are able to move forward, irrespective of what the decision is.”
Grafenia chief executive Peter Gunning commented: “I’m surprised that people were surprised at the reaction to the result. But every day’s a rollercoaster. To quote Matt Goss, watching BBC News is the thinking man’s reality TV show. Can’t wait for the season finale!” he quipped.
“The worst-case scenario is that Parliament isn’t able to amend the law and we pop out with no deal. 2016: ‘nothing but sunlit uplands’. 2019: ‘we need to practice lorry traffic jams’. The best case is to decide that the deal we currently have is actually alright and get back to business as usual,” he stated.
Kevin Creechan, managing director at J Thomson Colour Printers in Glasgow, said: “I’m not surprised by the outcome as the deal on offer was such a poor deal for the UK that it couldn’t possibly have been voted through. What a shambles, and one which is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Is it any wonder that a growing number of young Scots want nothing to do with Westminster?”
Creechan said the best-case scenario was to accept that the original vote “was taken against a backdrop of lies and spin” and to "present the facts as we know them now to the population prior to a second vote".
He said: “I doubt very much that the result would be the same. Hugely embarrassing about-turn but is it any more embarrassing than the current situation? The worst-case scenario would be to vote through a deal which imposes conditions on the UK which completely dilutes the notion of self-rule and would weaken the country for decades. Even a no-deal Brexit would better than that.”