Thursday 17 October 2019

Top companies accused of Brexit 'threats'

Health Minister Jeremy Hunt
Health Minister Jeremy Hunt

Andrew MacAskill

The British government and business leaders clashed in a deepening row over Brexit after a senior minister accused top companies of issuing "completely inappropriate" threats and undermining Prime Minister Theresa May.

Aircraft manufacturer Airbus last week issued its strongest warning over the impact of Britain's departure from EU, saying a withdrawal without a deal would force it to reconsider its long-term position and put thousands of British jobs at risk.

Other European companies with major operations in Britain have also started to speak out two years on from the Brexit vote, voicing concerns over a lack of clarity on the terms of trade when Britain leaves next March.

"It was completely inappropriate for businesses to be making these kinds of threats for one very simple reason - we are in an absolutely critical moment in the Brexit discussions and what that means is that we need to get behind Theresa May," said Health Minister Jeremy Hunt.

"The more that we undermine Theresa May the more likely we to end up with a fudge which will be absolute disaster for everyone," he added.

German carmaker BMW has warned the company would have to make contingency plans within months if the government did not soon clarify its post-Brexit position. German industrial group Siemens said it urgently needed clarity on how its operations would have to be organised.

The leaders of five major business lobby groups also warned the prime minister over the weekend that the ongoing uncertainty about Brexit could cost the economy billions of pounds.

Mr Hunt, a senior figure in the government who is viewed as a potential future prime minister, dismissed "siren voices" who say Brexit negotiations are not going well and said people should ignore them.

However, Paul Drechsler, the president of leading business lobby group the CBI, said Mr Hunt's criticisms were the "perfect strategy" for discouraging investment and would make it harder to increase tax revenue to spend on matters such as healthcare.

Mr Drechsler said: "This country needs ministers to be enthusiastic champions of business as found in most other countries."

The health minister's comments were later echoed by International Trade Minister Liam Fox, who said Britain's negotiating position was being undermined by companies urging the UK government to rule out leaving without a deal.

Irish Independent

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