Andrea Leadsom blasts business leaders over response to Brexit deal

Ben Gartside
Reporter
The Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP at the Conservative Party Conference at the Manchester Central Convention Complex, Manchester on Monday 30 September 2019 (Photo by P Scaasi/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Andrea Leadsom has blasted business groups over their response to the government’s Brexit deal, sources at a meeting between the groups have told Yahoo Finance UK.

Business secretary Andrea Leadsom and junior minister Kelly Tolhurst met with members of the five most influential business groups on Monday evening, where members were attacked for not getting behind the government’s latest Brexit proposals.

A source in the room described Tolhurst as “shaking with rage” while rebuking the business leaders, who face suspicion from Boris Johnson’s administration due to their close relationship with ex-business secretary turned Brexit-rebel Greg Clark.

The five groups consists of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), Institute of Directors (IoD), Confederation of British Industry (CBI), Make UK, and the British Chamber of Commerce (BCC).

READ MORE: Major business lobby group: Brexit 'damage already done'

One business leader told Yahoo Finance UK: “Business meetings with the business department should be business-like. From all accounts, yesterday was very different, an attempt to hector the UK business community. It won’t work.”

Yahoo Finance UK understands that the FSB were largely absolved from criticism, but the CBI and Make UK were the main targets for the government’s ire.

Sources say Make UK were admonished for their close relationship with the Labour Party and Rebecca Long-Bailey, who quoted them in her closing statement in the debate over the Withdrawal Agreement.

Long-Bailey quoted Make UK’s concerns over the lack of close agreement in the Government’s deal regarding trade of goods, and the effect of the deal towards the abilities of firms to plan ahead.

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The CBI also faced criticism for stating their “serious concerns” over the future relationship between the UK and EU, which was also quoted by Long-Bailey.

Leadsom and Tolhurst blamed the groups for a lack of support for the Brexit deal, and claimed they didn’t go far enough to support the Government.

Arch-Brexiteer Leadsom also raised the issue of government planning, and demanded one group retract a diagram showing Brexit preparedness, which the business secretary claimed misrepresented the level of preparation achieved by the government.

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A spokesperson from the department for business, energy and industrial strategy said:

“Businesses all over the country have said that they want to end the uncertainty. The new deal ensures that we take back control of our laws, trade, borders and money without disruption, and provides the basis of a new relationship with the EU based on free trade and friendly cooperation. Of course we want businesses to back it, and we are pleased that many businesses and business representative organisations already have.

“Our number one priority has been getting ready to leave the EU on 31 October, implementing the democratic mandate of the British people. Meeting with businesses has been a crucial part of this, and we have made £108m in funding available to support businesses in getting ready.”

A government source also disputed that Kelly shook with rage during the meeting on Monday.

Commenting on the story, Bill Esterson MP, Labour’s shadow minister for business and international trade said:

“Yet again ministers are saying they know better than people running businesses and their workers. The government must listen to businesses and trade unions who know just how damaging and dangerous this policy will be for jobs, workers rights and the economy. This is a bad deal for our country and it is a disgrace that Boris Johnson’s ‘F Business’ attitude has permeated across his whole government.”