No 10 has been asking major UK companies to sign a letter supporting its Brexit strategy, despite concerns in the corporate world about how immigration and trade will be affected.
The letter, first seen by Sky News, was circulated to some FTSE 100 chiefs and others leaders but it was soon leaked by a company furious that Downing Street wanted it to support a plan that would be damaging to the interests of businesses.
It is the second embarrassing leak for the government in 24 hours after the Guardian published a confidential Home Office document detailing plans to deter EU immigrants after Brexit, which also prompted angry warnings from business that such an approach would be catastrophic.
The letter was orchestrated by Jimmy McLoughlin, a No 10 official and son of the Tory chairman, Patrick McLoughlin, and is believed to have been met with a frosty response from business leaders given the lack of input they have been given in the Brexit process.
The letter asked business leaders to say: “We all share an understanding that Brexit is happening, a commitment to ensure that we make a success of the outcome for the whole country, and a confidence that a global Britain has the potential to become one of the most productive economies of the 21st century.”
It also asked them to express their support for the prospect of a transitional period after Brexit and the government’s EU withdrawal bill, saying: “We believe this is a good time for employers to work with government and parliament to make a success of Brexit and secure a bright future for our country.”
It is not clear how many, if any, business leaders have signed the letter, which was meant to be returned by Friday for publication in a Sunday newspaper.
But the Labour MP Ben Bradshaw, a supporter of the Open Britain campaign group, said the leak was a sign businesses were opposing the government’s hard Brexit plan.
“Just today, businesses in sectors ranging from farming to hospitality have reacted with fury to the government’s leaked plans to damage our economy by carrying out a draconian crackdown on immigration from the EU,” he said.
“And UK businesses have been clear that they value our trade links with the European Union, and that leaving the single market and customs union will risk damaging our economy.
“If the government wants a better reception from British business, they should end their hard Brexit rhetoric and focus on maintaining the economic benefits of EU membership as they have promised.”
No 10 declined to comment on the leaked letter or to say whether any business leaders had signed it.
But Theresa May’s spokesman said: “Business has an important voice in the conversation taking place over Brexit and we will continue to listen to them. One of our aims is to make sure we deliver a Brexit that is as smooth as possible for business.”
Downing Street and the Treasury have increasingly been trying to reach out to businesses since the election, including hosting summits on Brexit and reinstating David Cameron’s business advisory group.
This article was written by Rowena Mason Deputy political editor, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 6th September 2017 17.24 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010