Brexit deadline passes and still nothing is set in stone

Digger at Portland stone Dorset

Once again a Brexit deadline has come and gone, leaving business nursing stockpiles of essential product and equipment.

Fifty feet under the surface of Dorset, Portland stone miner Michael Poultney described what his business has been been through.

"We had to stockpile in March because we were concerned about no-deal. We then obviously had to roll that forward to April.

"We felt like they couldn't possibly go for a no-deal in October again, but as it got closer to the date, we got frightened, I got really concerned.

Image caption Michael Poultney says the prospect of a no-deal Brexit caused concern and expense

Both times the firm had to bring in spare parts for its mining machinery, guessing at which parts might fail. Each time they had to shell out around £150,000 to cover the stockpiling.

On top of that Michael's sales have dropped 20% this year. Those Brexit deadlines weighed heavily on his customers' confidence as orders were delayed or cancelled.

'Overwhelming'

Meanwhile in Ludlow, workers at bicycle-maker Isla bikes can barely move for the boxes of parts crammed into their factory. They have ordered double the amount they usually would at this time of year. Unlike Brexit, the crucial Christmas period is an "immovable deadline".

Image caption Work space is squeezed thanks to stockpiling

It's not just cash and space that have been devoured. Founder, Isla Rowntree, said the moving Brexit goal posts have been a drain on management time and energy.

"We're business people. We're not international economists.

"We're experts on bicycles and we're trying to diligently stay up-to-date with everything that's happening to inform our decision-making here.

"That's just overwhelming, trying to keep listening to the news to work out what's going on and what it means for us. To have been doing that for well over three years now. It's just exhausting."

No guarantee

It is hard to imagine a time in living memory when business has been so completely at the mercy of politics.

A new source of uncertainty has been added to this painful drawn-out process. The resolution of Brexit is now very dependent on the outcome of a general election.

Image caption Isla Rowntree says its hard to keep up with political developments

There is also no guarantee that an election will break the deadlock - it's possible the narrow parliamentary majority Boris Johnson secured last week in a preliminary vote for his withdrawal agreement could evaporate when parliament is reset.

Business owners, including Michael and Isla, are largely grateful that we are not heading over the cliff of no deal tomorrow. But they are deeply frustrated that while the political ground may move in December, business is stuck for now where it has been for more than three years.