May meets EU business leaders as Brexit tensions grow

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Prime Minister Theresa May met EU business leaders worried about Britain’s departure on Monday, as a secret letter emerged from two cabinet ministers instructing her how to run Brexit. The leaked memo from Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Environment Secretary Michael Gove, two top Brexit advocates, told May to ensure other ministers back the process by “clarifying their minds”.

“We are profoundly worried that in some parts of government the current preparations are not proceeding with anything like sufficient energy,” they wrote, according to the Mail on Sunday newspaper. The letter titled “EU Exit Next Steps” said failure to prepare for a no-deal outcome to Brexit negotiations “would leave us over a barrel in 2021” at the end of a possible transition period.

The political tensions drove down the pound in morning London deals, with the currency falling sharply to $1.3074, while the European single currency advanced to 89.05 pence. Businesses have warned that they will be forced to activate contingency plans some of which involve relocating part of operations to the continental European Union if Brexit uncertainty persists.

“This is an important meeting because the urgency that is shared by businesses across Europe is growing by the day,” Carolyn Fairbairn, head of the Confederation of British Industry, said ahead of the meeting with May in her Downing Street office. French and German business association representatives will also be present, as well as a delegation from the EU-wide BusinessEurope.

Business Europe head Emma Marcegaglia said after the talks that they had emphasized “the mutual importance of making urgent progress in the EU-UK talks.” “Business is extremely concerned with the slow pace of the negotiations and the lack of progress only one month before the decisive December European Council,” she said, referring to a summit where the next steps in Brexit negotiations are due to be decided.

Fairbairn said: “A transition period reflecting the current arrangements remains the priority on both sides of the Channel.” The Sunday Times earlier reported that 40 MPs from May’s Conservative party have agreed to sign a letter of no confidence in her, just eight short of the number needed to trigger a leadership contest.

Two cabinet ministers have been forced to resign in recent weeks one over sexual harassment and the other for a series of unauthorized meetings with Israeli officials weakening May’s leadership. This week sees the start of a series of parliamentary debates on the EU Withdrawal Bill, a major piece of legislation to incorporate thousands of EU laws into British law and repeal the European Communities Act enshrining Britain’s EU membership.

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