Executives from some of the biggest companies operating in the UK rounded on cabinet ministers on Tuesday night after they refused to rule out a no-deal Brexit in the wake of Theresa May’s crushing Commons defeat.
Sky News has learnt that the bosses of companies including construction giant Balfour Beatty, Tesco and Amazon told a trio of ministers – including the chancellor, Philip Hammond – in a hastily convened conference call – that protracted Brexit uncertainty was damaging Britain’s economy.
During the call, which lasted nearly an hour, Mr Hammond, the Brexit secretary and business secretary were repeatedly asked for reassurance about the likelihood of a no-deal departure from the EU.
John Allan, the chairman of Tesco and president of the CBI, urged ministers to provide clarity after Steve Barclay, the Brexit secretary, said that retaining the option of no-deal was essential to protect the government’s bargaining power with Brussels.
Mr Allan said the cabinet was guilty of communicating “conflicting messages” at a time when the business community was already wracked by uncertainty.
The ministers were also warned that the government’s focus on Brexit meant it was neglecting major infrastructure projects, with the potential consequence that the UK’s construction sector would lose critical resources which would be required in future decades.
Leo Quinn, Balfour Beatty’s chief executive, asked: “I would like to know when we might get back to a normal functioning government.
“Decisions are being delayed on HS2, new nuclear, Heathrow expansion.
“The enemy of business is delay and procrastination, and the construction industry will face large-scale restructuring where it cannot carry the resources it will need over the next 25 years, and capability will have to be let go.
“Once resources are lost to industry it is very difficult to get them to come back; the next six months are critical.”
Ministers were also asked by Doug Gurr, the UK boss of Amazon, how he could provide reassurance to his board about the likely direction of Brexit.
Mr Barclay responded by saying that the best mitigation against no-deal was to secure a deal with Brussels.
However, he poured cold water on the idea that Tuesday’s parliamentary defeat had strengthened the case for a second referendum.
“The risk is it [another referendum] would prolong uncertainty rather than remove it,” Mr Barclay said.
“It is difficult to see the House viewing the necessary legislation with goodwill, and expedite it.
“Would there be two or three questions; what would the spending limits be; there is the practical issue of interaction with European Parliament elections at the end of May.”
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