The bosses of some of Britain’s biggest companies, including BT Group, GlaxoSmithKline and Tesco, will hold talks with the prime minister next week amid warnings from their European counterparts that time is running out to secure post-Brexit trade arrangements.
Sky News has learnt that Theresa May has invited chairmen and chief executives from FTSE-100 and privately owned businesses to discuss the status of Brexit negotiations and the climate for inward investment into the UK.
Philip Hammond, the chancellor; Business Secretary Greg Clark; International Trade Secretary Liam Fox; and David Davis, the Brexit secretary, are also due to be at Monday’s meeting, according to a source.
Business leaders who are expected to attend include Sir Roger Carr, the chairman of BAE Systems; Carolyn Fairbairn, the CBI director-general; Dave Lewis, the chief executive of Tesco; Stephen Martin, who heads the Institute of Directors; Helena Morrissey, head of personal investing at Legal & General; Robert Noel, Land Securities chief executive; Andy Palmer, Aston Martin chief executive; Gavin Patterson, BT Group chief executive; Leo Quinn, chief executive of Balfour Beatty; Sacha Romanovitch, the boss of accountancy firm Grant Thornton UK; and Emma Walmsley, chief executive of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).
The talks will come just days after the influential European Roundtable of Industrialists (ERT) issued a statement warning of the need for clarity over future customs arrangements between the UK and European Union.
“The uninterrupted flow of goods is essential to both the EU and UK economies,” the ERT said.
“This must be frictionless as with a customs union.
“We need clarity and certainty, because time is running out.
“Uncertainty causes less investment.”
Downing Street painted a more optimistic picture of the meeting, saying: “On customs, the prime minister explained the work that was underway on the two customs models and underlined the importance of ensuring that our future trading arrangements with the EU are as frictionless as possible, delivering on the commitments to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and allowing the UK to pursue an independent trade policy.”The PM recognised the necessity of providing certainty for businesses, pointing to the agreement of an implementation period at the European Council in March to provide time to allow businesses to prepare for the new arrangements.”
Sources said that Downing Street had asked those attending next Monday’s meeting to commit to two further gatherings in the coming months, suggesting that Mrs May has begun to heed concerns that she has had insufficient engagement with the private sector as Brexit looms.
The PM ditched the Business Advisory Group which existed under David Cameron, and which had a fixed membership group.
The European Council meeting at the end of the month will provide an important staging post towards an eventual withdrawal agreement for the UK, with the principle of a transition deal having been agreed at its summit in March.
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There remains deep unease in the business community at the continued absence of agreement on future customs arrangements or the inclusion of financial services in a trade deal between Britain and the EU.
None of the companies attending the talks would comment, while No 10 declined to comment.