John Allan

Tesco chairman and CBI president John Allan is among those urging MPs to come to their senses and back the deal

Considering the ongoing attempt to oust her, there was a surreal calm about the Prime Minister today as she urged businesses to support her under-fire Brexit deal.

She seems to get strangely more assured the closer we get to the abyss, perhaps taking the very British advice of Michel Barnier to heart.

Meanwhile, businesses are anything but calm as the clock ticks towards the prospect of no-deal.

And that explains why businesses, if not MPs, seem to be rallying around the embattled PM – even if most didn’t want Brexit in the first place and hold severe reservations about what it will mean for trade, workforce shortages and investment, to name but three potential issues.

Read more: Industry leaders warn of Brexit chaos as May’s deal flounders

May told the CBI of her vision for “zero tariffs and no fees, charges or restrictions across all goods sectors”, adding that the UK was determined to secure an “ambitious customs arrangement that respects both sides”.

“That is what our businesses need, and that is what my deal will deliver,” she declared.

Tesco chairman John Allan, CBI’s president, is among those urging MPs to come to their senses and back the deal.

He claims companies are “watching with horror” as Brexiteers and Remainers alike seem oblivious to the damage being done to businesses among the unfolding chaos.

The CBI director general Carolyn Fairbairn, whilst admitting the withdrawal deal negotiated by the government was “not perfect”, said the time had come for “compromise, pragmatism and realism” to rule – which judging by events so far looks like an ambitious demand indeed.

Fairbairn claims the negotiations have resulted in “real progress” which she says have “pulled us back from the cliff edge” including announcements on the transition deal and promises on tariffs, albeit vague ones.

One MP who has apparently been convinced of the need to avoid the fall, even if he privately loathes the deal, is reported to be environment secretary Michael Gove.

According to BuzzFeed his experience running Defra had convinced him that the alternative of a No Do was unconscionable.

“The other Brexiteers in the Cabinet and a lot of those on the backbenches would go for no deal,” it quotes the source as saying. “But Michael never would, because he has seen what it means in Defra.”

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC, also welcomed the PM’s promise of frictionless trade and called on MPs to step up efforts to avoid a no-deal.

Opinion: May’s Brexit deal may be doomed – but it’s what the industry needs

Assuming the PM survives the day, the government is expected to unveil more details of its plans for that new trading relationship in the days to come.

Huge barriers remain, not least on the thorny issue of immigration.

May told the CBI end of freedom of movement in the EU, rather than a workforce crisis, would mean a system based on talent rather than geography.

“It will no longer be the case that EU nationals, regardless of the skills or experience they have to offer, can jump the queue ahead of engineers from Sydney or software developers from Delhi,” she said.

Such words, aimed no doubt above the heads of the audience in the conference room to the Brexit-backing public, will surely send alarm signals to those realists and pragmatists in boardrooms and factories, aware of just how much companies in industries like food and drink currently rely on EU nationals.

But for now such worries are being put aside. May can probably count on the support of businesses more than she can from her own “allies” in Westminster.