European executives call for longer transition period amid 'uncertainty'
A high-profile group of European executives has warned of the "highly disruptive" impact of a hard Brexit and called for a longer transition period to be considered.
The warning came in a letter to British Prime Minister Theresa May and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. It was copied to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and other EU leaders.
The European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT) represents around 55 chief executives and chairpersons of big European companies.
It includes representatives from Nestlé, Heineken and L'Oréal, as well as Ireland's Smurfit Kappa Group.
ERT chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg, who is also chairman of oil company BP, wrote to Mrs May and Mr Juncker in October - while negotiations on the withdrawal agreement were ongoing. He said that the "growing uncertainty" about the outcome of Brexit is a "huge burden" for companies.
"A hard Brexit without a withdrawal agreement and a transition period would be highly disruptive for trade in goods and services and for the movement of people and data, putting jobs at risk and hurting our customers," he warned.
He said that "time is fast running out to avoid this" and that companies are implementing contingency plans "at significant cost".
Mr Svanberg called for "all efforts" to bring early confidence that a hard Brexit can be avoided.
He urged both sides to show flexibility and raised concern that the EU and UK remained "far apart" on their future economic relationship.
"Both sides should keep open the possibility of a longer transition period, in case it proves necessary for the future relationship to be negotiated and implemented," he wrote.
According to Mr Svanberg, businesses may need more time to prepare "if our economies are not to face unnecessary disruption".
He said the current transition period endpoint of December 2020 is "arbitrary".