John Lewis boss Charlie Mayfield says 'no deal' on Brexit is 'unthinkable'

The chairman of the John Lewis Partnership, Charlie Mayfield, says the prospect of not agreeing terms with the European Union is "unthinkable", and that the consequences of Britain crashing out with no deal "would be grave".

We are fast approaching the business end of Brexit negotiations and some companies are starting to fret.

Two years on from the referendum, and it still isn't clear what sort of trading relationship the UK is likely to have with the EU.

There are a range of possible outcomes, from ongoing, close integration, through to a rather sudden and dramatic cutting of ties next March.

Charlie Mayfield described the prospect of no-deal as 'unthinkable'. Credit: PA

Government ministers continue to publicly threaten walking away from talks. At the weekend, Liam Fox told Sky News the government is "not bluffing" about "no-deal".

"We have been part of this trading block for the best part of the last 50 years and the whole economy is incredibly intertwined," Mr Mayfield told ITV News.

"Whether you think it's a good idea to cut all ties with Europe or not, we are not prepared (ready) to do so."

Many of the businesses who warned about the potentially negative impact of leaving the EU are anxious about the lack of progress in negotiations.

They want to know if regulation will change, if they'll have to pay tariffs, if their staff and the goods or services they supply and buy will be able to move around the EU as freely as they do now.

Last week, Airbus threatened to reduce its activity in the UK if there wasn't urgent clarity on what Brexit will mean for their business.

Yesterday, the car industry warned that if the government does not abandon its determination to leave the single market and the custom union then jobs will be lost.

Mayfield too wants frictionless trade. He points out that 90% of the food we import either comes from the EU or countries that have a trading arrangement with the EU.

Supply chains are "lean and fragile", he insists, and would be badly damaged if British crashes out without agreement.

Theresa May is bracing for more Brexit negotiations at Chequers. Credit: PA

At the weekend, Jeremy Hunt said it was "completely inappropriate" for businesses to publicly express concern about the negative impact of Brexit.

Mayfield takes a different view.

"Ministers are suggesting that businesses who speak out are somehow unpatriotic, but I would says it's not in the interests of the country to leave with no deal," he said.

"If there are real political consequences that businesses can see and are real then I think actually there is a responsibility to speak about these things so the debate is better informed."

The prime minister is due to whisk her divided Cabinet away to Chequers next week to thrash out what sort of settlement with the EU the government can collectively agree on.

The flurry of statements by business leaders are undoubtedly designed to focus minds.