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David Cameron has called an emergency meeting of an inner circle of trusted business leaders at Downing Street on Thursday morning to discuss business priorities for Brexit negotiations and the months ahead.
Although Sajid Javid, business secretary, is holding a meeting for trade associations on Wednesday, the prime minister’s gathering is believed to be the main forum for setting the agenda for business over the summer.
Some members of the 19-person business advisory group, which includes Alison Brittain, Bob Dudley, Dame Carolyn McCall and Xavier Rolet the chief executives of Whitbread, BP, easyJet and the London Stock Exchange respectively did not support remaining in the EU. Thursday’s meeting will therefore only include an “inner circle” of trusted advisers. The group was not due to meet until early July.
One business leader who will attend the meeting said Number 10 needed to convey there was no hint of “guns being turned on the business community” because of the referendum result. The prime minister’s advisers are understood to feel angry that business did not campaign wholeheartedly in favour of remaining in the EU.
The business leader said a “safe” environment had to be created where business could speak its mind.
The meeting will address the question of how business can work with government in the next few months to re-establish confidence. One item under discussion will be the role of George Osborne, the chancellor, who has come under criticism for only speaking in public once, on Monday morning, since the referendum result was known.
The meeting is also expected to discuss the possible establishment of a special commission on trade, which would take part in the negotiations over Britain’s exit from the EU, and would include business leaders.
Finally, businesses will also ask for an acceleration of the fiscal policy changes set out by Mr Osborne in the March budget, including a reduction in corporation tax currently planned for next April.
On Wednesday a meeting of trade associations, including the employers’ group the CBI, the Institute of Directors and the British Chambers of Commerce, has been called by Mr Javid. At the meeting, the groups are expected to ask for specific commitments for example, on infrastructure spending from government in a move to shore up confidence.
“I will urge ministers to avoid allowing business and the UK to fall into limbo by getting on with important investment decisions, such as expanding the UK’s airport capacity,” said Terry Scuoler, chief executive of the EEF manufacturers’ organisation, who will attend the meeting at the department for business.
The business community is deeply worried about the uncertainty engendered not just by the referendum outcome but by the ensuing political turmoil. Business leaders voiced concern on Monday that they would find it difficult to get a hearing with a government and the civil service if it was embroiled in internecine warfare.
Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the CBI, called for swift action from the government to give reassurance to EU nationals working in the UK about their right to remain.
The CBI has written to the prime minister, the business department and the Treasury to outline what it sees as the top priorities for business: ensuring continued access to the European single market, setting out clearly how the UK will agree trade deals with the rest of the world, and ensuring companies can go on attracting the skilled staff they needed.
“What we need is a plan,” said Ms Fairbairn, a cry being echoed across the business community. “We need rapid clarity on who is making the decisions.”
The CBI said business “welcomed” the delay to triggering Article 50 and thus kicking off formal exit negotiations with the EU, although some businesspeople warn the delay risks extending the uncertainty.
Simon Walker, director-general of the IoD, said he was worried about business being able to communicate its priorities.
“A lot of things have been put on hold and the likelihood is that the leadership contest will prolong all that,” he said. “It’s going to be very hard for departments like [business] to focus on the key issues and, however much the civil servants may want to, it’s going to be very hard getting the attention of politicians over this period.”
Adam Marshall, acting director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said business wanted a “clear timetable”.
“The big decisions on airports, energy generation, HS2, housebuilding and more need to be followed through. The decision to delay a post-referendum budget must not be a convenient excuse for ministers to duck these important choices.”
Mr Javid has said he will start a “planning process” but there is widespread belief among business leaders that several projects are now “dead in the water”, including the extra runway in the south-east and even possibly the high-speed HS2 rail project.
Courtesy : ft.com