Cumbria Chamber of Commerce is advising businesses to step-up preparations for a no-deal Brexit.
It believes that, while MPs decisively rejected Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement, they may fail to agree an alternative.
Rob Johnston, Chief Executive of the Chamber, said: “The markets’ reaction to Tuesday’s vote suggests they think it has made a no-deal Brexit less likely.
“But it’s still the default option. It’s what happens on March 29th unless Parliament and the EU agree an alternative deal or agree to delay Brexit by extending Article 50.
“The majority against Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement was an unholy alliance of Brexiteers who want a harder Brexit and Remainers who want a softer Brexit or no Brexit.
“There might not be a majority for anything in Parliament so we have to take the possibility of no-deal seriously.”
He believes that businesses have been reluctant to make Brexit preparations until they get clarity on what Brexit will look like.
He said: “We still don’t have answers to basic questions such as ‘What customs procedures will I face?’ or ‘Who can I hire and where from?’ But businesses can’t delay any longer.
“It’s prudent to plan for the most disruptive scenario, which is leaving on World Trade Organisation terms without a withdrawal agreement and a transition period.
“That means businesses spending money on contingency plans that could be better spent investing for growth and to boost productivity but at this late stage there is no option.”
The Chamber has extensive resources on its web site – www.cumbriachamber.co.uk – to help businesses prepare.
It is also encouraging firms to complete an online survey on Brexit priorities and preparedness.
The survey’s findings are being reported to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
Rob added: “Immediately after the General Election in 2017, when Theresa May lost her majority, we urged politicians to work cross-party to negotiate Brexit.
“That didn’t happen then but has to happen now if Parliament is to agree any sort of deal.
“There is speculation that Brexit might be delayed, which is fine if the Government has a plan and needs time to work it up.
“But we need a resolution to this. We can’t allow the purgatory of Brexit uncertainty to continue indefinitely.
“Every day that goes by businesses are holding off on investment and hiring staff.”