Retail is bracing itself for the toughest Christmas in a decade as Brexit uncertainty, high property taxes and deep discounting grip the market just two weeks into the golden quarter.

The chair of one national retailer told The Mail on Sunday that 2019 would be “the worst Christmas since Woolworths collapsed” back in 2008, as the perfect storm takes its toll on businesses.

Retailers had been set to receive some respite on business rates, but legislation designed to ensure that the amount paid by bricks-and-mortar operators was reassessed every three years, rather than five, failed to make it through Parliament last week.

Had the bill been passed, retailers in certain locations could have had their rates cut significantly in 2021.

But that is now up in the air with Parliament expected to be suspended on Tuesday, following the Queen’s Speech this morning.

Retail accounts for around 5% of the UK economy but pays 10% of all business taxes and 25% of business rates. According to business rates consultancy Altus, more than 12,000 shops are now paying more in rates than rent.

The situation has left retailers fearing more companies could be forced out of business following the golden quarter.

One chair said: “This is going to be the worst Christmas since Woolworths collapsed.

“Everybody is struggling – particularly the fashion retailers – and even online fashion retailers are finding it hard because of the number of returns they are getting at the moment.

“The sales numbers are terrible and this whole political uncertainty has become a joke.”

Another retail boss who runs hundreds of stores added: “Business rates no longer reflect current market conditions. Rents are coming down by a third, but business rates are still sky high.

“If a sensible solution to Brexit can be found, everyone can stop panicking. But at the moment Christmas is impossible to call.

“The rates system is broken. The high street is in continual decline. But this tax is based on 2015 property values, when the world was very different. When is the Government going to wake up?”

As retailers scramble to secure sales, many have already resorted to deep discounting just two weeks into the golden quarter.

John Lewis launched a fortnight-long 20% off fashion Sale on Friday, having already offered similar deals on homewares at the end of September.

The department store chain’s sales jumped 23.1% in the week to October 5 as home sales rocketed 68.4%, but those increases are likely to be offset by much slimmer margins.

Rivals including Marks & Spencer, Debenhams and House of Fraser have also been slashing prices in a bid to woo festive shoppers.