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Theresa May accused of taking an 'anti-business' stance on Brexit

Luke James
Brussels correspondent
Theresa May set out her red lines on Brexit in speech earlier this month (Getty)

Theresa May has been accused of taking an anti-business position on Brexit by industry leaders.

Her Conservative party has traditionally been seen as the champion of free enterprise in Britain.

But the group representing British business in Brussels said today that the Prime Minister couldn’t claim to be acting in their members’ interests on Brexit because of her support for leaving the single market and customs union.

Business Europe president Emma Marcegaglia told Yahoo UK: “If we look at what is the position of our member, the CBI, they don’t really like this very much.

Business Europe president Emma Marcegaglia speaks at the World Economic Forum in Davos (Getty)

“So I don’t really think this can be seen as a pro-business attitude because what companies really need is certainty.

“Not knowing exactly how you can plan with this idea [leaving the customs union and single market] I don’t think is really a pro-business attitude.”

And she warned: “If companies don’t have any certainty, at a certain point, within some months, they could decide not to invest any more or even to disinvest from the UK.”

Her comments come after former Chancellor and Evening Standard editor George Osborne wrote that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has taken a “more pro-business, pro-free trade European policy than the Tory Government” by promising to keep Britain in a customs union.

Former Chancellor and Evening Standard editor George Osborne (Getty)

Pro-Brexit Conservatives have argued though that remaining in the single market and customs union is bad for business.

MP Jacob Rees-Mogg said in a recent speech that remaining in the single market would prevent Britain from striking trade deals with trade deals with other countries.

And he described the customs union as a “protectionist racket” that pushes up prices for consumers by putting import tariffs on goods from outside the EU.

Business Europe were though positive about the deal struck this week between the UK and EU on the transition period, during which Britain will remain in the single market and customs union.

Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg says leaving the single market and customs union will be good for business (Getty)

General secretary Markus Beyrer said it was a “good step” towards securing business certainty and avoiding a scenario where companies leave Britain or disinvest.

“Every company takes its individual decision but this deal can be the basis for some who want to be optimistic to maybe postpone,” he told Yahoo UK at the launch of a new report on the EU economy.

“But then of course it will also depend on the future relationship. I think what we could achieve now is the transition and on this it was a relatively positive step.

“On the future, the CBI is still arguing rightly that the UK should stay in the customs union and I think this is the position of business.

“I don’t think you have still now have a very good alternative to this. This is of course for the UK government to define its red lines.”

The EU could begin negotiating a free trade deal with the UK as soon as next month if they’re given the green light to do so at this week’s EU leaders’ summit in Brussels.

Business Europe said the two sides needed to work fast on the free trade deal during the 21-month transition period.

Mrs Marcegaglia pointed out most deals take “many years” to complete and suggested “two years could not be enough.”