There are fears EU chief Donald Tusk’s comment that there is a “special place in hell” for Brexit leaders will have hardened the attitude of Brexiteers and made a no-deal exit of the EU more likely.

The president of the European Union said: “I’ve been wondering what that special place in hell looks like, for those who promoted Brexit without even a sketch of a plan how to carry it out safely.”

His statement has been widely attacked for being inflammatory and it came at the end of a stormy week for business and politics.

There were shockwaves at the news that Nissan would not be producing its new X-trail SUV vehicles in Sunderland.

The Japanese car giant is facing severe business issues of its own which many feel have prompted the move.

But Nissan’s comment that Brexit also had an effect on its future planning also caused alarm.

Especially as this followed a report from the Confederation of British Industry last week that British retailers and wholesalers are stockpiling goods at levels last seen during the banks crash a decade ago.

Nissan’s Europe chairman, Gianluca de Ficchy, said that “the continued uncertainty around the UK’s future relationship with the EU is not helping companies like ours to plan for the future”.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable met members of Cumbria Chamber of Commerce in Kendal yesterday to talk about Brexit.

The chamber is running a survey to gauge how prepared businesses are for Brexit and is feeding the results to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

Chamber chief executive Rob Johnston said: “Just under half of businesses haven’t done anything because they don’t think Brexit will affect them or because they don’t know what to do as they’re unsure what form Brexit will take.

“Of those that are making preparations, some are carrying out risk assessments on their supply chains or are raising stock levels as a precaution and bringing forward deliveries of components and raw materials.

“Those increasing stocks say it is having a negative impact on cashflow.

“Several said they are looking at new export markets and one business told us it has changed its marketing strategy entirely to target non-EU customers.”

According to the survey, 56 per cent of the businesses included in it believe Brexit will harm them, 19 per cent anticipate it will be positive, 13 per cent predicted it will be neutral and 10 per cent didn’t know.

Mr Johnston said the positive approach came mostly from businesses in the hospitality sector who are expecting the pound to fall further, making it cheaper for overseas visitors to come here and more expensive for Brits to go abroad so boosting UK ‘staycations’.

He added: “That said, some larger hotels, particularly in the Lake District, are worried they may not be recruit EU migrant workers.

“Because the Government’s mantra has been ‘there will be a deal’ many businesses have been relaxed about preparations. They assumed there would be a transition period until the end of 2020.

“Now they’re waking up to the prospect of ‘no deal’ with immediate impact on March 29.

“Even if you don’t import or export you may be affected if your suppliers do - or if you supply another business that does.

“We are urging businesses to take the prospect of a no-deal seriously.”

Britain’s biggest retailers and wholesalers have raised their stockpiling efforts to the highest levels since the 2008 financial crisis, according to the latest monthly distributive trades survey from the CBI.

The report warned that retailers expect demand to fall and had built up stocks

Firms including luxury carmaker Bentley, as well as High Street names like Dixons Carphone and Pets at Home have announced plans to shore up supplies in the event of chaos at British ports.

With less than 50 days to go before the March 29 deadline, some retailers fear to say whether and what they are stockpiling in case it starts panic-buying and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Many of the county’s big name businesses declined to comment when approached by The Cumberland News.

A Pirelli spokesperson said: “We are watching the situation closely and considering how to safeguard our continuing operations in the UK.”

But some smaller firms have already taken sensible precautions. Ye Olde Friars sweetshop in Keswick is run by Michael and Richard Webster.

It has been a town landmark since it was opened in 1927 by their grandfather.

They import chocolate and confectionery from Switzerland, Germany, Netherlands and France. Richard doesn’t see any need to stockpile, but admits that the company has taken some action to counter any negative effects of Brexit.

He explained: “We have bought some Euros and Swiss Francs – about a third of our requirements for the next 12 months in case there is a huge drop in the rate of Sterling.

“Leaving the EU is not something that concerns me particularly. The world keeps turning. They are still desperately keen to sell to us and we are still desperately keen to buy from them.

“Our biggest supplier is stockpiling in case there are delays at the ports.

“I think in the short term there will be some disruption, but in the medium-term it will be fine.”

Richard’s mum is German and the company imports much of its stock from Europe, but he believes that the UK can benefit from its divorce from the EU.

“In balance, in the long-term, it will be positive,” he says.

“The Germans and the Belgians are still going to produce some fantastic stuff that they want to sell and not just sweets – we will still want Mercedes and BMWs.”

Paul Currie, managing director of The Lakes Distillery, predicts that Brexit will have little effect on his business, though it has ordered in extra materials from abroad to avoid any shortfall over the coming months.

“Uncertainty is the main issue. It is holding back people’s spending in the UK and the whole instability of the situation has to be sorted out.

“We don’t expect selling into the EU to be much more complex than it is at the moment. There are issues about ports and our distributors getting supplies, but we don’t anticipate problems there.

“We have an extra few months supplies to what we normally have and made sure we have plenty of materials from Europe for our packaging and we have imported extra corks from Portugal.”