Prime Minister Theresa May’s successor must avoid a no-deal Brexit or risk losing the Conservatives’ moniker as the party of commerce, the U.K.’s biggest business lobby group said.
The task facing the next prime minister is to “restore the U.K.’s reputation as the stable and trusted country to start and grow a business,” Carolyn Fairbairn, director general of the Confederation of British Industry, said late Thursday [May 30] in an open letter to the wide field of candidates trying to win the Tory leadership contest and become prime minister.
“Firms large and small are clear that leaving the EU with a deal is the best way forward,” Fairbairn wrote. “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.”
Fairbairn’s letter is a shot across the bows of some of the 11 politicians who have so far declared their candidacy in the Tory leadership contest. The favorite, former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, has said Britain should be prepared to leave the European Union without a deal, as have fellow contenders Dominic Raab, Andrea Leadsom and James Cleverly.
Former Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey has gone even further, saying Britain should actively pursue a no-deal Brexit, while Kit Malthouse is pushing a plan that could also involve leaving the bloc without an agreement.
“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,” Fairbairn wrote. “We have a clear message for the next Conservative leader and future prime minister. Champion business.”
Speaking on BBC Radio 4 on Friday, Fairbairn said the option of a no-deal Brexit “should not be considered,” adding that businesses “cannot be prepared” for that outcome.
It isn’t just Johnson’s potential support for a no-deal Brexit that is causing concern. Last year, he didn’t deny reports that he’d said “f*** business” to a European diplomat in relation to Brexit.
“It may be that I have from time to time expressed skepticism about some of the views of those who profess to speak up for business,” Johnson later told the House of Commons.
The Tory leadership contest officially begins when May steps down on June 7, but was effectively triggered by her announcement last week. It’s likely more candidates will emerge before nominations close in the week of June 10. The party aims to install a new prime minister before Parliament breaks for its summer recess, typically toward the end of July.
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