WE have this week had two starkly contrasting statements regarding Brexit negotiations and their consequences – one from Prime Minister Theresa May and the other from the Federation of Small Businesses. So which reflects reality?

Mrs May, who is sticking with her somewhat scary “no deal is better than a bad deal” mantra, delivered a message this week to company bosses in New York that “a post-Brexit Britain will be an unequivocally pro-business Britain”. The UK business community, however, appears unequivocally unconvinced by this chat. And it has every right to raise its collective eyebrows because Mrs May’s claim is incredible. There is only one scenario in which what she says might conceivably be possible, and, sadly, the UK Government appears hell-bent on avoiding that particular option.

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A no-deal Brexit would be a calamity for many businesses, as well as for tens of millions of households. The UK Government’s technical notes on what to expect, and plan for, if there is a no-deal Brexit continue to flow. The main thing they seem to do is highlight the sheer scale of an impending disaster that would affect millions of people in myriad ways.

Given that remaining in the single market has been ruled out by Mrs May, who continues to have to accommodate the arch-Leavers in her Cabinet, a post-Brexit Britain will be anything but business-friendly.

This observation applies to domestic businesses, many of which will lose exports, face supply-chain disruption and see their already very significant skills shortages exacerbated. It also applies to overseas investors, both those which are here already and have to make decisions regularly about whether to expand or shrink in the UK, or exit, and those for which the country might be on a list of potential locations to set up operations. Many existing overseas investors in the UK are here because it offers painless access to the rest of the giant European single market.

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You would imagine that few, if any, leaders of domestic or overseas companies would be getting ready to invest big in Britain and pop champagne corks on the back of Mrs May’s declaration of an “unequivocally pro-business Britain”. Some UK company leaders with personal anti-EU ideology might continue to believe the arch-Brexiters’ bizarre world view but the evidence shows business bosses who see some kind of positives from leaving the EU are in a tiny minority.

This brings us to the FSB’s take on Brexit talks and their implications.

Responding to the release of the latest no-deal Brexit “guidance” on Monday, and speaking a few days after the EU’s unequivocal rejection of Mrs May’s Chequers free-trade area plan at Salzburg, FSB national chairman Mike Cherry declared: “Last week’s summit in Salzburg laid bare the volatility of the current Brexit negotiations and has heightened concerns among our small businesses.

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“These worries would have only intensified after studying the latest Government no-deal technical notes. So far, the Government has released three tranches of information that have really made clear that a chaotic no-deal Brexit will be damaging and dangerous for our small firms.”

So not at all the “unequivocally pro-business Britain” panacea foreseen by Mrs May then?

Mr Cherry also highlighted problems in the event of a no-deal exit for smaller firms reliant on hauliers for delivering goods across the EU and for importing. He cited risks to the UK’s place in the EU’s Unitary Patent system and the implications for innovative firms, and adjustments for businesses currently using EU trademarks or relying on cross-border copyright mechanisms.

He warned: “This risks stifling innovation at the very time we need to nurture it.”

His point about the UK needing more than ever to nurture innovation is well-made. After all, the country’s economy has been hammered by nearly a decade of austerity now from the Tories. It was recording dismal growth rates even before the terrible drag of the Brexit vote, which has hit business confidence and investment, unnerved consumers, and fuelled inflation and thus squeezed household finances even more.

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Does any of this sound like it is good for business?

Mrs May’s declaration that Britain will be “pro-business” post-Brexit will not turn this fantasy into a reality, even if she is the prime minister.

Mr Cherry, warning that a no-deal outcome must be “avoided at all costs”, declared: “We need the Government and EU to break the impasse and come back to the negotiating table with a renewed energy and willingness to deliver a pro-business deal.”

He is right to highlight the importance of a “pro-business deal”. Some might ask why business should be considered first. However, in this case, the interests of business and households are aligned. Both will be worse off as a result of Brexit. And both would be hammered by no-deal.

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The problem is, while the UK and EU obviously have their negotiating positions, the gulf between them is far, far greater than mere posturing. A Norway-style agreement may well have suited the EU, and limited Brexit damage to the UK, but the die-hard Leavers in the Cabinet and less moderate of their supporters among the electorate were having none of this relatively sensible option. They do not want to stay in the single market, a stance driven lamentably often by views on immigration.

The EU has said the UK cannot have “single market a la carte”. With free trade come other obligations. The UK continues to want to have its cake and eat it, with or without a cherry on top. If the UK and EU were two companies in merger talks, many observers would have written off the prospect of a deal long ago. However, there is so much more at stake in the Brexit talks than in corporate merger discussions, with the livelihoods of millions of people affected.

Brexit will, under any scenario, unleash severe further damage on the UK economy, on top of that caused so far by the ill-judged Leave vote in summer 2016. A no-deal exit would increase the scale of the calamity.

The most pro-business move would also be the best for households. Any ideas what it would be? Here is a clue – Mrs May and her Government have no intention of making such a move. And Labour is divided on it. For those who have not worked it out, the most positive move for both businesses and households would be to abandon the whole sorry Brexit shambles, and stay in the EU.