Brexit: This is what business uncertainty looks like | Business News

For many within British business, the path to Brexit has felt like a tortuous exercise.

Demands for clarity have gone unanswered. Trust in politicians has been fractured.

Some of our biggest companies have spent millions of pounds planning for a no-deal Brexit, only to discover that even that prospect is now shrouded in uncertainty.

It probably won’t happen on 29 March, it might happen on 12 April. Or maybe some other day in the future. Even the unpredictable has never felt quite so unpredictable.

Storage facilities like this one are running at full capacity
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Storage facilities like this one are running at full capacity

In Peterborough, you can see what all this uncertainty looks like.

Inside the frozen warehouse at Chiltern Cold Storage, it has never been so busy. Pallets of frozen food are piled up to the roof and the warehouse is running at about 110% capacity.

In other words – the shelves are full, but they’re squeezing in more products to help clients who are desperate to stockpile their products.

John Davidson, the managing director at Chiltern Cold Storage
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John Davidson, the managing director at Chiltern Cold Storage

“I’ve been in the industry for 38 years and I’ve never seen anything like it,” says John Davidson, the managing director at Chiltern.

“It’s been absolutely horrendous. We’ve been in planning with our customers for about four, five months now – the past 21 days everybody has sort of triggered the button.

“We need to now start moving, getting our manufacturing sites, putting product into storage and build in the contingency just in case something happens.

“Yesterday’s decisions obviously caused a few problems now, it’s how we deal with that going forward.

“I think stockpiling will continue for the next six months at least, until everybody knows how the transition periods are going to work, if there is an agreement made, so we know how the border control processes work and settle down.

“Personally I just want to see a decision made so that the industry, the whole of the industry, can get on with doing their jobs. 110% capacity is not an efficient way to operate but we need to service our customers and make sure their needs are met so we are squeezing every ounce of space that we can out of the units.”

Some of our biggest companies have spent millions of pounds planning for a no-deal Brexit, only to discover that even that prospect is now shrouded in uncertainty.

Adam Parsons

On Thursday, in a remarkable show of united frustration, the bosses of the CBI (Confederation of British Industry) and the TUC (Trades Union Congress) wrote a joint letter describing the Brexit impasse as “a national emergency”. Many in British business repeat the line that a company facing this sort of turmoil would have long since sacked its boss.

Nigel Wonnacott, from Brittany Ferries
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Nigel Wonnacott, from Brittany Ferries, says the company has changed its schedules

But the tendrils of Brexit continue to envelop many companies.

In Portsmouth, I stand next to Nigel Wonnacott, from Brittany Ferries. One of his company’s huge ships is leaving port behind us, but the pressing issue is still to come – Brexit.

Brittany has a £46.6m contract from the government to supply extra ferry services in the event of a no-deal Brexit. And even though the 29 March deadline is about to pass, the company insists that the contract is still going ahead.

“Nothing’s changed for us,” says Mr Wonnacott. “We’ve been preparing for many months now, we are I think as ready as we can ever been for all eventualities.

“I think we’d like a bit more certainty, I think everybody in the country would, but we can reassure our customers, our passengers and our freight drivers, that we have done everything that we possibly can with our port partners to make sure things run smoothly.

Brittany Ferries
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Brittany Ferries has a government contract to supply extra services for a no-deal Brexit

“We were committed when we signed the contract with the Department for Transport in December, we were committed to offering 20 new routes to guarantee space for critical products like medicines in the event of no-deal Brexit, so we’ve changed our schedules, we’ve employed more staff, we’ve paid extra port dues and fuel costs of course and we’ve changed something like 20,000 existing customer bookings, so deal or no deal, extension or no extension, we’re absolutely committed to the new schedules come 29 March.

“If an extension allows us to secure that deal then I think that’s something that would be helpful. I think if we continue to swim in these ever increasing circles of uncertainty, I think that’s unhelpful for anyone, so I think we, like every other business, need certainty. If an extension helps get that, so be it.”

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