(Reuters) Big companies are stepping up plans in case Britain crashes out of the EU without a deal, as Prime Minister Theresa May struggles to get talks back on track.
Britain was hoping to agree with the EU on 14 December to move the Brexit talks on to the second phase.
This would focus on trade and a two-year transition deal to smooth the departure after March 2019. But the timetable has been thrown into doubt after discussions broke down in Brussels on Monday.
Senior executives in the financial services sector, which accounts for about 12% of the economy, told Reuters May’s efforts to secure a transition deal had come too late and they had no choice but to start restructuring.
Big supermarkets such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s have been working with suppliers to identify potential delays, shortages or price rises. They have lined up alternative providers, according to suppliers and sources in the industry.
The uncertainty is particularly painful for the manufacturing sector as low margins make it risky for them to restructure unless it is essential.
They have been holding off on investment but are preparing for new certification that would allow them to sell in Europe if there is no deal.
“The delay is so great and the uncertainty is so great that companies have no choice but to start triggering their plans,” the head of one of Britain’s largest companies said.
‘No longer if but when’
Britain and the EU are working to get talks back on track this week but the chairman of one large international bank said its executives had decided to plan for the worst at a conference call on Tuesday.
“The question is no longer whether we are moving (operations to the EU), it is a question of how big those moves are?,” he said.
Like other executives, he had been asked by his board and the government not to divulge their thinking.
The chairman said the bank has started discussions with customers about rerouting client activity to European hubs, including rewriting thousands of contracts.
Government could collapse
Senior employees were told last month if they had to relocate to Europe, he said.
Another senior executive at a large US bank said that he was increasingly concerned that May’s government could collapse after the Brussels talks broke down over a dispute about the Irish border, adding to the uncertainty.
“We are at the maximum point of danger,” he said.
The financial sector needs extra time to make sure its clients are prepared. For instance, a British bank opening a subsidiary in Europe may need its clients to adopt a new sort code throughout their own supply chains.