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Business leader opinion: Miracle on Downing Street as May fights another day

By Jo Sellick, managing director, Sellick Partnership

Theresa May has had a nightmare week, but miraculously the Prime Minister remains in power after surviving the confidence vote, and for that the nation must be thankful. Our business leaders desperately needed some certainty as we head into Christmas and prepare for a difficult 2019. While I might not be May’s biggest fan, she was tasked with an impossible job and I do not believe that any other Conservative politician would have negotiated a better outcome at this stage.

I can only assume that the MPs who voted against Theresa May and called the vote in the first place were doing so for personal gain and not for the good of the country, as I cannot see any positive outcome of a leadership contest during such challenging times. May already cancelled important meetings with EU leaders this week as a result of the vote, and now that she has won the party’s confidence she must get back to work and renegotiate the withdrawal bill.

Of course, there is another possible outcome that became apparent this week, as the European Court of Justice ruled that the UK could legally cancel Brexit. This has brought a rare ray of hope to those of us who are hoping for anything but a no-deal or hard Brexit. A second referendum remains a prospect, and would be my preferred option to finally put an end to this saga. The public now have a clear idea on what they are voting for and it is only fair and democratic that British citizens have a say now that the facts and figures are available. Interestingly, opinion polls claim that some of the towns that had the heaviest proportion of leave votes in the country have swung the other way.

Any other candidate for Conservative leadership would have made this outcome impossible to imagine. The likes of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, who campaigned so hard for the pro-leave camp, would have pushed for a hard Brexit or a no-deal Brexit and both of these scenarios would be disastrous for the economy. There is not much to be thankful for regarding politics at the moment, but avoiding a leadership contest at this troublesome time should be a relief to us all.

From a recruitment perspective, it would not surprise me if yet more EU workers currently residing in the UK decided to return to their home nations in the new year, where the economy is more certain and job prospects are brighter. This will leave many sectors struggling, not just the NHS as we have already seen, but industries such as care, construction, agriculture and hospitality. The only way to avoid this is for a concrete plan to be set out that business leaders can actually work towards, rather than a selection of vague scenarios and political chaos.

Of course, the issue of the Northern Irish backstop still remains and May has a task on her hands trying to resolve this in a way that gets her bill passed in parliament. Time is ticking and there is a legal deadline of 21, January 2019 to get approval on the withdrawal agreement. Now that the confidence vote is out of the way I would hope that MPs get behind the Prime Minister and work towards the same goal. It is a case of better the devil you know, and May is the only bit of stability in the choppy Brexit waters.