Brexit: May takes flak over business concerns as her cabinet creaks

Ministers’ divisions over Brexit deepen as Corbyn accuses PM of putting jobs at risk

Tony Blair: “The negotiation with Europe has been conducted by civil servants in a state of despair overseen by politicians in a state of denial.” Photograph: Keld Navntoft/AFP/Getty Images

Theresa May has denied that her government is not listening to the concerns of business over Brexit, as Labour claimed that cabinet squabbling was putting thousands of jobs at risk. Jeremy Corbyn said that entire industrial sectors were in jeopardy because the government's failure to agree a common position on Brexit made it more likely that Britain would leave the European Union without a deal.

Speaking during prime minister’s questions at Westminster, the Labour leader said that Ms May had ruled out staying in a customs union, cabinet ministers had ruled out her preferred option of a customs partnership and the alternative of “maximum facilitation” was unrealistic.

“That leaves only no deal, which she refuses to rule out. She is putting jobs at risk. Sadly, it is not those of the warring egos in her cabinet,” he said.

“Thousands of skilled manufacturing jobs and the future of whole industries in Britain are at stake. The prime minister continues to promote the fallacy that no deal is better than a bad deal.”

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The prime minister, who will meet other EU leaders at a summit in Brussels on Thursday, said she was listening to business as the government sought to negotiate a customs arrangement that would keep trade frictionless with Europe and allow Britain to trade freely around the rest of the world.

“We are putting jobs at the heart of what we do in relation to Brexit. We are putting jobs at the heart of what we do as a government through our modern industrial strategy and we are ensuring that, when we deliver Brexit, we deliver a Brexit that is good for our economy, good for jobs and good for people up and down this country,” she said.

Squabbling ministers

Cabinet divisions over Brexit and public spending plans have been on public display this week as ministers criticised one another in speeches expressing wildly divergent policy outlooks. Foreign secretary Boris Johnson was reported to have said "f*** business" and health secretary Jeremy Hunt said warnings from companies about risks surrounding Brexit were inappropriate.

Business secretary Greg Clark said he wanted a soft Brexit with frictionless customs arrangements, single market access for services as well as goods and a "labour mobility framework"that would allow businesses and the self-employed to provide services throughout Europe.

“The business voice puts evidence before ideology and brings the actual experience of trading with Europe and the rest of the world, not a theoretical view of what the world might be like,” he said.

Andrew RT Davies resigned on Wednesday as leader of the Welsh Conservatives after a defence minister criticised him for making “inflammatory” remarks denouncing Airbus’s warning of job losses in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Deadline extension

Former Labour prime minister Tony Blair on Wednesday called for the article 50 negotiations to be extended beyond the deadline of March 29th, 2019, criticising both the government and the opposition for their approach to Brexit.

“Up to now, the negotiation with Europe has been conducted by civil servants in a state of despair overseen by politicians in a state of denial. We cannot go on like this. I have never been more worried about the future of our country than now, with competing emotions of anxiety and rage,” he said.

“We have a government whose every move is a calculation not about the interests of the nation, but the internal balance of advantage between the factions of the Conservative Party, with the prime minister more a hostage than a leader. Meanwhile the leader of the Labour party neglects to lead the fight here at home over an issue which literally determines the future of Britain and where he could play a decisive role.”

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times