Theresa May has abandoned plans to present European leaders with a detailed blueprint for a future UK-EU relationship ahead of a Brussels summit this month, a decision taken as business leaders said they were losing faith in her handling of Brexit.
Senior government officials said Mrs May now planned to publish a 150-page white paper after the
European Council meeting on June 28-29, in spite of earlier claims that it would help to shape debate ahead of the summit. David Davis, the Brexit secretary, was said by colleagues to be “disappointed” that the detailed plan — which he said would be “most significant publication on the EU since the referendum” — was being put on hold.
David Jones, a pro-Leave former Brexit minister, said: “I’m afraid it will be kicked down the road to the October Council, by which point it will be far too late.”
The frustration from within her own camp was echoed by business executives as Mrs May held one of her regular meetings with leaders of 13 large British concerns. One of those attending said the mood among the group had “decayed considerably” as decision-making in Whitehall has stalled in recent months.
We have repeatedly raised the same issues, such as the need for frictionless trade after Brexit, but it is now a Gordian knot that we can’t help untie Business executive Another leading business figure said executives were “starting to disengage” after months of regularly making the same case to the government.
“We have repeatedly raised the same issues, such as the need for frictionless trade after Brexit, but it is now a Gordian knot that we can’t help untie,” the executive said. A Downing Street spokesman would not say when Mrs May planned to unveil the detailed proposal for the post-Brexit relationship, saying only that “it will be published when it is ready”.
Mrs May’s allies said the white paper would be published in July, just after the EU summit. In a statement after the meeting, Downing Street said: “The prime minister provided an update on the negotiations with the EU. . . setting out plans to provide greater detail of the future relationship in a white paper due to be published shortly. The business representatives expressed their support for this approach.”
Ministers remain deadlocked over a plan for a future customs relationship with Brussels, leaving a gaping hole in the planned white paper.
They are, however, expected to publish a “backstop” plan to avoid a hard border in Ireland before EU leaders convene at the end of the month — meaning the Irish debate may be the only issue of substance discussed at the highly anticipated summit.
The Brexit Files: How will leaving the EU affect the UK economy? Mrs May and Mr Davis attended Monday’s meeting with business leaders alongside Philip Hammond, chancellor, Liam Fox, trade secretary, and Greg Clark, business secretary.
When you keep circling round and it keeps coming back to Ireland. . . you get in this desperate spiral of: ‘What the hell can we do?’ Business executive at Downing Street meeting Among the business leaders invited were Emma Walmsley, chief executive of GlaxoSmithKline; Dave Lewis, Tesco chief executive; Roger Carr, chairman of BAE Systems; Paul Drechsler, president of the CBI; and Gavin Patterson, chief executive of BT.
Many of the executives there suggested that the “maximum facilitation” plan preferred by Brexiters — relying on advanced technology to speed customs clearances — would need a long transition period before full Brexit, one that could be extended as long as necessary. But the business leaders were pessimistic on what impact they could have on negotiations.
“It’s not only ‘What’s the point?’ it is ‘What can you actually do?’” said one. “When you keep circling round and it keeps coming back to Ireland, and you know the solutions being proposed are not acceptable to the EU, you get in this desperate spiral of: ‘What the hell can we do?’” Last week, a delegation from many of Europe’s biggest industrial companies, including BP, Vodafone, Nestlé, BMW, and Eon, warned Mrs May that they would not invest in Britain as long as Brexit-related uncertainty persisted.
Adapted from Financial Times