BREXIT WATCH: Bosses’ fury as Tories ignore UK business

PUBLISHED: 12:00 29 June 2018

Boris Johnson. Photo: PA / Stefan Rousseau

Boris Johnson. Photo: PA / Stefan Rousseau

PA Wire/PA Images

The Conservatives used to pride themselves on being the party of business. But that relationship has unequivocally broken down, as ANGELA JAMESON reports.

How do you know when a relationship has hit rock bottom?

Roland Rudd, a prominent Remain campaigner and adviser to many of the UK’s leading businesses, tweeted this week: “Can’t remember a time in my life when the business community has been so vilified and ignored by large parts of the governing Conservative Party.”

Reports that Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, replied “f**k business” after being asked about bosses’ concerns at the tail end of last week only heightened tensions between the business community and the Tories.

Days after Airbus warned the UK government that it could be forced to quit the UK if we end up in a no-deal Brexit, the CBI, the British Chambers of Commerce, the EEF manufacturing group and the Federation of Small Businesses have finally got together to issue a wake-up call to the government.

Paul Dreschler, who stepped down after two years as president of the CBI, has also let rip. He points out that as business voices are dismissed as unworthy and irrelevant three-quarters of all UK tax revenue (£500bn) is supported by the activities of private sector companies and that private sector businesses employ some 27 million people.

To the business world, Brexit negotiations appear to have stalled since March and that is beginning to affect how companies behave.

Business investment is set to grow at only 1 to 2% this year, a figure that should be double, given where we are in the business cycle.

So-called contingency plans for a 
worst-case scenario, are now being dusted off.

BMW followed Airbus’s warning with its own red flag saying that it would be forced to leave the UK, where it has four facilities employing about 7,000 people, if its operations become uncompetitive. Investment in the UK car industry has halved in 2018, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.

Sir Gerry Grimstone, chief executive of one of the UK’s biggest city fund managers, Standard Life Aberdeen, also issued a plea for realism and pragmatism. Businesses just want to know what the rules will be going forward, he said.

Meanwhile, latest figures from the Department for International Trade show that the number of projects funded by Foreign Direct Investment in the UK slid by 9% in the past year.

The foreign secretary’s outburst shows how the Conservative party has been dragged across the rubicon. There have always been tensions in the party between those who side with big business and its global activities and the localism and protectionism required by small businesses. Previously patched over, these are now openly being expressed.

But it is not just the renegade ministers and known Brexiteers like Johnson who have badmouthed business this weekend.

Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, appeared to be trying to build his Brexit credibility when he said it was “completely inappropriate” for businesses to be “making those kinds of threats”. Business secretary Greg Clark does not have the confidence of the business community.

Threats or fair warning, it depends on your point of view, but there is no doubt that businesses are frustrated at the lack of a plan B. It is surprising to them that ministers do not seem keen to protect sectors that employ so many people.

We are now days away from a crunch meeting at Chequers where the Brexiteers in the Cabinet and the Remainers will finally need to resolve a critical white paper on the future UK-EU trade relationship.

It may be that Airbus, BMW, Standard Life Aberdeen and the other businesses that are finally speaking out are giving the Prime Minister and the Chancellor the ammunition they need to argue that staying in a Customs Union is the only feasible solution for the UK, if it is not to face a cliff-edge.

At least that is one way that optimist pro-Europeans are interpreting the current mud-slinging between business and the Government.

We will have to wait for the Brexit white paper to see whether the shouting has made any difference.

At The New European, we pride ourselves on the high quality of our contributors and experts, and believe we play a valuable - and much needed - role in media plurality, offering an alternative perspective to the right-wing, anti-EU outlets dominating UK media.

We depend on the support of our subscribers and readers to cover our costs. Your contribution, however small or large, will help ensure our sustainability. Please click here to choose a plan.

You've seen the news, now discover the story

The New European is committed to providing in-depth analysis of the Brexit process, its implications and progress as well as celebrating European life.

Try 13 weeks for £13

Support The New European's vital role as a voice for the 48%

The New European is proud of its journalism and we hope you are proud of it too. We believe our voice is important - both in representing the pro-EU perspective and also to help rebalance the right wing extremes of much of the UK national press. If you value what we are doing, you can help us by making a contribution to the cost of our journalism.

  • Become a friend of The New European for a contribution of £48. You will qualify for a mention in our newspaper (should you wish)
  • Become a partner of The New European for a contribution of £240. You will qualify for a mention in our newspaper (should you wish) and receive a New European Branded Pen and Notebook
  • Become a patron of The New European for a contribution of £480. You will qualify for a mention in our newspaper (should you wish) and receive a New European Branded Pen and Notebook and an A3 print of The New European front cover of your choice, signed by Editor Matt Kelly

By proceeding, you agree to the New Europeans supporters club Terms & Conditions which can be found here.



Supporter Options

Mention Me in The New European



If Yes, Name to appear in The New European



Latest Articles

ANTI-BREXIT EVENTS

Grassroots anti-Brexit campaigners are increasing the pressure on politicians ahead of a series of important votes this year. Here is a list of the events organised across Britain in the coming weeks and months.

Trending

Newsletter Sign Up

The New European weekly newsletter
Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy