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City chiefs slam PM's Brexit stance

Published 25/09/2016

Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary accused the Government of delaying decision-making on Brexit
Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary accused the Government of delaying decision-making on Brexit

Some of the City's biggest hitters have delivered a withering critique of Theresa May's Brexit negotiations ahead of the 100 day anniversary of Britain's decision to quit the European Union.

The likes of Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary and financial PR guru Roland Rudd rubbished the prime minister's oft-used "Brexit means Brexit" catchphrase, while Sir Martin Sorrell has urged the Government to maintain access to the single market.

Mr O'Leary also accused the Government of delaying decision-making and warned that investment is being postponed.

"So far we've had the Government saying 'Brexit means Brexit', which is as clear as mud. Mrs May is kicking this as far down the road as she can. The British want to delay it for as long as they can - but the Government will have to start making decisions.

"The impact is beginning to be felt as investment decisions are being already postponed. Whether the UK leaves the EU or stays, I couldn't care less. The issue for us is whether we stay in the single market," he told the Press Association.

Ryanair is one of a string of companies, including British Airways and Virgin Group, that have warned of the impact of the referendum result on their business.

Mr Rudd, founder and chairman of corporate communications firm Finsbury, wants more clarity on Mrs May's negotiating stance, adding that people are "waking up" to the difficulties involved in leaving the EU.

He said: "'Brexit means Brexit' means nothing. After 100 days, we need more clarity about the Government's negotiating position, starting with whether they want us to stay in the single market, which is so vital to so many British businesses.

"International partners like Australia and the US have said they will not talk to us about new trade deals until we leave. David Davis has admitted that Britain could end up trading with the EU under WTO rules, which would see exporters facing unnecessary tariffs."

Although post-referendum data has shown some resilience in the economy Sir Martin, boss of advertising giant WPP, believes this is a "false dawn".

"A couple of months' data, heavily influenced by a short-term spending hike due the weakness of sterling, does not represent firm evidence that fears of economic damage were overblown. The Bank of England's prompt action may also have created a false dawn.

"Divorcing Europe could take the best part of a decade, and we won't know the full impact for many years."

The chief exec added that he believes growth will slow in the UK, Europe and possibly globally and envisages a long, complex and painful withdrawal from the EU that could see businesses delay or cancel investment decisions.

Sir Martin added: "I would like to see the Government prioritise the retention of preferential terms of access to the single market. To lose them would be a huge blow, especially for services."

The WPP boss said that he had not given up on the idea of a "Brexit check", either through the next general election or even a second referendum to once again "test the view of the electorate".

However, other high profile businessmen have advocated a so-called "hard Brexit", whereby the UK would ditch the single market.

The outspoken Wetherspoon founder and chairman Tim Martin said: "We need to restore democracy, which means leaving the single market. As James Dyson has demonstrated, we should say to European negotiators that we're happy to trade with or without tariffs - it's up to them.

"Since EU countries sell us twice as much as we sell them, tariffs will produce a surplus for the UK - but we're a free trading nation, so we're happy to forgo this advantage. The danger for the UK now is to believe the Scare Story pundits who say we must, at all costs, stay in the Single Market, which undermines our bargaining position. In reality it doesn't matter much to us."

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