West business leader calls for fresh approach to Brexit as May announces she will quit as PM

May 24, 2019

The leader of the region’s largest business organisation has called on the next Prime Minister to end the “drift and lack of direction” in Parliament over Brexit and fix the fundamentals blighting the UK economy.

The comments from Phil Smith, managing director of Business West – the organisation that runs the Swindon & Wiltshire Initiative – came shortly after Theresa May said she would quit as Conservative leader on June 7. 

The announcement, made during an emotional speech by Mrs May outside No 10 Downing Street this morning, paves the way for the election of a new Tory leader the following week.

The winner will become Prime Minister. In her resignation address Mrs May said her successor would have to compromise and build agreement in Parliament to deliver Brexit.

But Mr Smith, pictured, said businesses had to be reassured that a change at the top in Downing Street did not simply usher in a longer period of uncertainty.

“As our global competitors get sharper and more strategic, Britain is still mired in indecision and uncertainty,” he said.

“Drift and lack of direction have real-world economic consequences, brought home to many of our communities not just by high-profile business closures, but by the quiet and growing loss of contracts, investments and jobs.”   

The UK was already paying the price for a political system at war over Brexit, he said.

“Our reputation as a great place to do business is diminished and, for too long, government has been distracted from working with business to fix the fundamentals here at home, particularly around skills and infrastructure.

“Any leadership contest must be swift and followed urgently by a clear plan to break the impasse.” 

He said the clock was still ticking down to October 31, the latest date for the UK to leave the EU, of who is in Downing Street.

“A new Prime Minister must work to avert a messy and disorderly exit from the EU,” he said.

“At the same time, preparations must continue to ensure that government, its agencies and our communities are as ready as they can be for all possible eventualities.”

The director-general of the CBI, Carolyn Fairbairn, praised Mrs May’s efforts to deliver Brexit but said there now had to be a change of approach.

“The Prime Minister could not have worked harder to deliver a Brexit deal that protects the economy. She leaves office with the respect of business.

“But her resignation must be now be a catalyst for change. There can be no plan for Britain without a plan for Brexit. Winner takes all politics is not working. Jobs and livelihoods are at stake.

“Business and the country need honesty. Nation must be put ahead of party, prosperity ahead of politics. Compromise and consensus must refind their voice in Parliament.

“We call on politicians from all parties, on all those ambitious to lead, to take this chance for a fresh start.”


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