Confederation of British Industry Director-General Carolyn Fairbairn
The Confederation of British Industry is rounding up business names for an open letter designed to ‘bully’ the Government over Brexit, it emerged last night.
The pro-Remain business group has sparked fury in government by gathering signatures for a letter addressed to Theresa May and EU leaders.
A text seen by the Daily Mail warns of ‘continuing uncertainty’ over Brexit, says that leaving the EU without a deal will damage jobs and growth, and calls for a transition period lasting up to three years after the UK leaves.
The downbeat letter risks the accusation that the CBI is renewing its role in ‘Project Fear’ in the run-up to last year’s referendum. It comes days before Theresa May’s major Brexit speech next week.
The letter is being passed around major firms in the UK and on the continent in an attempt to garner supportive signatures.
It was set to be published in full by the weekend in one newspaper in this country and one in Germany.
Last night a senior government source accused the group of conspiring with European firms against British interests.
AN EXTRACT FROM THE LETTER
Our businesses need to make decisions now about investment and employment that will affect economic growth and jobs in the future.
Continuing uncertainty will adversely affect communities, employees, firms and our nations in the future. Businesses across the EU and UK are clear: being able to plan for a transition of up to three years that avoids a cliff edge is critical for all of our prosperity.
Until transitional arrangements can be agreed and trade discussed the risk of ‘no deal’ remains real and has to be planned for, with inevitable consequences for jobs and growth on both sides.
The source said the CBI was ‘trying to push the Government in to a deal that might not be in the best interests of the British people’, adding that it appeared the organisation was ‘in cahoots with our EU neighbours to try and push through their own deal at the expense of us’.
Former work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith said the CBI was trying to ‘bully the British government’.
He said: ‘I begin to despair of the CBI. All they do is talk down British business. All you hear from them is a storm of negativity.
Former work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith said the CBI was trying to ‘bully the British government’
‘Most businesses don’t look to the CBI, and aren’t scared of change and new markets and the opportunities of Brexit.’
He called on the organisation to ‘stop moaning and bellyaching and help their members get ready’ for leaving the EU.
THEIR UNRELIABLE TRACK RECORD
- The CBI backed the exchange rate mechanism – the precursor to the euro – which led to interest rates soaring into double figures. Only after the UK crashed out of the ERM on ‘Black Wednesday’ in 1992 – against the CBI’s advice – did Britain enjoy a sustained period of economic growth.
- The CBI said Britain should join the euro when it launched in 1999, arguing that the single currency would ‘deliver significant benefits to the UK economy’.
- A 2013 study by the CBI found EU membership was worth £3,000 per household in Britain, but it was widely derided.
- In May 2015, then CBI president Sir Mike Rake said there was ‘no credible alternative’ to Britain remaining in the EU.
- In February 2016, the CBI organised a letter from 21 European business federations calling for the UK to stay in the EU.
- The CBI receives around £148,000 of funding a year from the European Commission.
A text of the letter, seen by the Mail, states: ‘Our businesses need to make decisions now about investment and employment that will affect economic growth and jobs in the future.
‘Continuing uncertainty will adversely affect communities, employees, firms and our nations in the future. Businesses across the EU and UK are clear: being able to plan for a transition of up to three years that avoids a cliff edge is critical for all of our prosperity. We are therefore writing to urge both sides to be pragmatic and determined to move to the next stage of the negotiations.
‘Until transitional arrangements can be agreed and trade discussed the risk of “no deal” remains real and has to be planned for, with inevitable consequences for jobs and growth on both sides.’
The letter calls for ‘substantive progress’ in the next phase of negotiations and says that trade should be on the agenda by the end of the year.
Last week senior business leaders refused to sign up to a government-organised letter backing the Government’s Brexit strategy. Downing Street quietly asked executives to sign an open letter saying they wanted to ‘make a success of Brexit’, and welcoming the Government’s push for a transitional deal – but were rebuffed.
The CBI also called for an ‘open approach’ to immigration from EU countries after Brexit, after leaked Whitehall documents suggested there would be a crackdown on migrant numbers when we leave.
A spokesman for the CBI declined to comment.
The row came as former Bank of England governor Mervyn King warned that ministers and civil servants are not doing enough to prepare Britain for the possibility of leaving the EU without a deal.
Former Bank of England governor Mervyn King warned that ministers and civil servants are not doing enough to prepare Britain
Lord King, who has insisted this country can thrive outside the EU, said it was essential that Britain had a ‘fall back position’ in case talks collapse.
He said he was not ‘terribly impressed’ by how much the Government has set out a year after the referendum.
And he said that if the negotiations with Brussels break down Britain must ensure it is capable of trading with the EU on World Trade Organisation terms.
HM Revenue and Customs yesterday warned that it may need an extra 5,000 staff to manage a new post-Brexit customs regime.