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Meet the businessmen ‘hoping for 11th hour shock’ on Brexit

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For the last seven days, we’ve been on the road.

Actually, not just the road, but rail, ferry and plane across all four nations, speaking to all kinds of people for whom Brexit is important.

When we left Westminster last week, Theresa May had just decided to cancel the meaningful vote on a Brexit deal which was rejected before it even reached the house.

Theresa May's hopes of securing further concessions from the EU have so far proved fruitless
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Theresa May has had little success on her recent visits to Brussels

It seemed a good time to set off; there was a feeling of chaos, flux, confusion at Westminster. But it’s easy to think that repeated away from parliament. So we wanted to find out.

It has been two-and-a-half years since Britain voted to leave the European Union and since then Brexit has become such a part of our way of life.

Even down to the way that we talk; you are either in or out, you voted Leave or Remain, you are a “remoaner” or you are a “Brexiteer”. We talk about backstops, customs unions, transition periods and hard borders.








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Britons in the EU give their take on a ‘no deal’

Britain after the referendum vote became split and if you think that the passage of time has healed that you would be very wrong.

We started our journey in Birmingham – the location of David Cameron’s last public speech as prime minister on the day before the vote in June 2016. He said the economy would be weaker if we leave and strong if we stay.

Greg McDonald, a businessman in Birmingham, thinks Mr Cameron had it spot on.

David Cameron's pleas fell on deaf ears
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David Cameron’s pleas to stay fell on deaf ears

He told Sky News: “I wrote to our employees and I said to them that the effects of voting for Brexit would be detrimental to our business.

“They have the right to vote the way they want but I said to them, ‘well you voted that way’, so if it doesn’t go well you know who have you got to blame.”

Mr McDonald is no longer investing in his UK company and funnelling money into a new European arm of his business.

Greg McDonald is worried about the impact of Brexit on his business
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Greg McDonald is worried about the impact of Brexit on his business

Drive 170 miles west and the coast of Anglesey, Wales, comes into sight.

One of the largest ports in the UK is preparing for a “no-deal” Brexit. It is massive, with nearly half a million pieces of freight passing through here each year.

No deal would cause huge disruption because – at the moment – there is no customs border.

Mr McDonald is now funnelling more money into the European arm of his business
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Mr McDonald is now funnelling more money into the European arm of his business

It is crucial for the Irish because they use the UK as a “land bridge” to Europe. Bypassing the UK would mean a journey three times longer.

Verona Murphy, from the Irish Road Haulage Association, thinks a hard border needs to be avoided at all costs.

“This is a link that cannot be broken,” she said.

Anglesey is home to one of the largest ports in the UK
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Anglesey is home to one of the largest ports in the UK

“If we have Brexit, we’re going to have huge disruption. We’re going to have a huge loss in business, but it will recover.

“But I do not see that it will recover for the British people, who will find it very difficult. If the British people don’t reach an agreement, they will be much worse off for the next 10 years.”

The Irish border is the big Brexit headache for negotiators. It runs right through the middle of Don Reddin’s bus depot – and he is taking advantage of that.

Verona Murphy, from the Irish Road Haulage Association, thinks a hard border needs to be avoided at all costs
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Verona Murphy, from the Irish Road Haulage Association, thinks a hard border needs to be avoided at all costs

He has split his company in two – a UK and an Irish business, with two entrances, two offices, two separate phone lines and two bank accounts.

“This will allow me to trade in both the UK and Ireland – just in case,” he said.

“I’m hoping at the eleventh hour someone is going to shock me and that this is the plan all along and they’ve come up with a real good deal and everyone will be happy.”

Don Reddin's bus depot benefits hugely from the UK's existing relationship with the EU
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Don Reddin’s bus depot benefits hugely from the UK’s existing relationship with the EU

Mr Reddin is an optimist, but in the most northerly tip of the UK they are not so confident.

The Shetland Islands are closer to Oslo than London, but the fishermen here watch Westminster as closely as they watch the weather.

The big issue here is the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

Fishermen in Shetland are unhappy with the state of Brexit talks
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Fishermen in Shetland are unhappy with the state of Brexit talks

Under Brexit, the idea is to withdraw from it and give the UK control over its fisheries and who can enter them. There is a fear here that the CFP could be sacrificed to seal the deal.

Gary Smith, a fisherman for 30 years, would not be happy with that.

“We are surrounded by foreign fleets here and they are allowed to take more fish out of the sea than we can,” he said.

“I voted for Brexit because I wanted to secure a future for our fisheries.

“I am worried that the prime minister is more worried about trade deals, immigration and the Irish border than she is about fishermen.”

On the same fish quay is Robert Williamson.

He owns a shellfish processing plant and he has just benefited from £250,000 in EU funding.

He said: “We are worried about a no deal. That could mean tariffs on our exports and that’s not good.

“We are linked to the EU in so many different ways and I desperately want to keep it that way.”

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