Business leaders on a call with the prime minister Boris Johnson and cabinet minister Michael Gove on Brexit have described the meeting as “pointless”.
The virtual meeting was scheduled on the morning of 20 October for 3pm the same day. It was organised to discuss how the government aims to support businesses after the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December
“A wasted 23 minutes of my life”
According to the government, 250 businesses were on the call. Although it had been scheduled for an hour, it only lasted 23 minutes, with Johnson and Gove discussing their levelling up agenda.
One leader told the PA news wire:
There was no opportunity to ask questions and it was completely choreographed.
Only three people were allowed to ask questions, set up in advance, and we were essentially told ‘it will all be fine’.
It was a little bit of a ramble, but, they were basically talking about the levelling up agenda.
It was a wasted 23 minutes of my life. It was pointless.
Another leader on the call added:
It wasn’t a constructive or helpful discussion. It felt like it was putting the onus on business.
“There is no extension”
Others declined to comment, saying they were concerned any criticism could lead to any government support being cut.
Leaders on the call described it as an opportunity to re-enforce the message that an extension to talks with the EU is fanciful. One of them said:
The whole thrust (of the call) was: there is no extension. I think it was a real marker put down that for anybody who believe there is a possibility that it might get extended – it won’t happen.
According to reports, Johnson left the call after 10 minutes. Meanwhile, Gove described Brexit as being “like moving house – it’s a hassle at first, but you are upgrading”.
An official government handout quoted Gove saying:
I am hugely appreciative of the efforts that so many companies have made over the course of this year, both to help us deal with the Covid crisis and also to prepare for the end of the transition period.
We know that this December 31 we will be leaving the customs union and single market, come what may.
It’s in law, and it’s a fact that the EU and UK accept as immoveable, and that means we need to make sure we’re ready.
Cooperation and financial support
The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) was one of the three organisations chosen in advance to ask a question. Following the meeting, a spokesperson said:
There are two key developments that our members who trade internationally want to see at this critical moment.
Firstly, assurance that large corporations will work cooperatively with small suppliers to ensure that help – not risk and longer payment terms – are passed down supply chains as we embark on a new relationship with the EU.
And secondly, the introduction of transition vouchers: grants worth up to £3,000 for small firms that trade internationally to spend on preparations for January 1.
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