The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) launched a direct plea to Conservative Party leadership contenders, urging the next Prime Minister to reach an agreement with Brussels. In an open letter to the Government, director-general Carolyn Fairbairn said a no deal Brexit would cause “severe” damage to British businesses, adding that the “vast majority of firms can never be prepared” for a hard departure. She said the next prime minister needed to listen to “clear, detailed evidence” from businesses when it comes to cutting ties with the European Union. Leadership contender Esther McVey has said the UK needs to “actively embrace leaving the EU without a deal”.
Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab have both said they would work to renegotiate the terms on offer with Brussels but would make sure the UK leaves on October 31, with or without an agreement.
In an open letter to the 11 participants in the race for Number 10, Ms Fairbairn said: “The next prime minister can only claim the Conservatives are the party of business if they secure a Brexit deal that protects the economy, jobs and living standards.
“Firms large and small are clear that leaving the EU with a deal is the best way forward.
“Short-term disruption and long-term damage to British competitiveness will be severe if we leave without one.
“The vast majority of firms can never be prepared for no deal, particularly our SME (small and medium enterprise) members who cannot afford complex and costly contingency plans.
“We need compromise, consensus and honesty to resolve the Brexit impasse, quickly.
“Prolonged uncertainty is damaging our economy now – driving up costs and reducing sales.
“Stockpiling of raw materials and goods among SMEs is at a record high.
“Billions of pounds in investment are being diverted from the economy, harming future jobs and prosperity.
“The CBI urges the next prime minister to build their approach to Brexit from the bottom up – from the clear, detailed evidence of firms, on the ground, managing the day-to-day implications for jobs.
“Only then will the UK have the foundations for a world beating economy.”
Ms Fairbairn said Brexit was not the only concern for British business.
She added: “Threats of renationalisation, continued doubts over vital projects like Heathrow, HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail, and unreformed business rates are just a few of the other challenges that make investors think twice.
“It’s time to restore the UK’s reputation as the stable and trusted country to start and grow a business.”
But speaking against the letter, City AM editor Christian May said the CBI should be focusing beyond the Brexit debate.
Writing in his leader column, he said: “It would be nice if the race devoted sufficient time and space to business and economic policy, and in a bid to direct candidates’ focus on this vital area the CBI today helpfully publishes a letter (more of a desperate plea) to all the would-be PMs, calling on them to commit to ‘a new partnership with business’ that builds a ‘post-Brexit Britain that is both prosperous and fair’.
“They want a PM to ‘champion business’. A worthy aspiration.
“Pro-Brexit Tories have fallen out with the CBI, viewing it as part of the anti-Brexit blob that doesn’t respect the referendum result.”
He continued: “As the CBI says in its letter today, business needs to work with the Government to focus on the challenges of the future.
“Appointing a vociferous Remainer to lead the organisation doesn’t appear to be in keeping with the spirit of that proposition. I fear they’ve missed a trick here.”