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Leadsom fills her first business roundtable with pro-Brexiteers

Meeting: Tim Martin
Meeting: Tim Martin

By Sam Blewett

Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom has held her first Brexit roundtable with company bosses, including the no deal-supporting founder of the Wetherspoon pub chain.

The Leave-backer, who was promoted in Boris Johnson's Cabinet reshuffle, was said to have stressed that the UK would be out of the EU by the October 31 deadline.

Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin said during the approximately two-hour meeting in Whitehall that the businesses were largely supportive of the message.

But it came after the pound plummeted over the new Prime Minister's hardening no-deal rhetoric and continued warnings over its potential impact on the economy.

At the meeting was a director for Ineos, whose chief executive is billionaire Brexit-backer Sir Jim Ratcliffe, and Tate & Lyle Sugars' Gerald Mason, who has welcomed Brexit for the sugar industry.

Also present was construction firm Laing O'Rourke, which believes that no-deal doesn't pose a threat to the industry.

Ken Daly, chief executive of JML - a company set up by John Mills, former vice-chairman of the Vote Leave campaign - was also at the roundtable.

But one official stressed the meeting was supposed to bring together a broad church of voices.

Mr Martin said: "The Government side opened up by saying that we were definitely going to leave on October 31.

"My main pitch, which the room was strongly behind, is you may call it leaving if you sign a withdrawal agreement minus the backstop, but the public won't call it leaving.

"The acid test for leaving is whether you leave the customs union, and that was my pitch. And I was surprised that people were with me over this."

Ms Leadsom, who was among a tranche of Vote Leave campaigners to receive top jobs under the new Prime Minister, agreed with this sentiment, according to Mr Martin.

Her position is a stark contrast to that of her predecessor Greg Clark, who cautioned that a no-deal would cost "many thousands of jobs".

After the meeting, Ms Leadsom said: "The businesses I met with today agreed that we must take advantage of the opportunities that lie ahead: in innovation, new AI technologies, clean growth and the extraordinary scientific advances in which Britain is already leading the way.

"They also spoke about the benefits of doing away with certain EU red tape that has a stranglehold on productivity.

"While there are challenges, business leaders were optimistic and clear that none are insurmountable."

Ms Leadsom is to seek public support from businesses for the Government's plans and for trade opportunities that ministers say will emerge after Brexit.

Also at the meeting were Scottish Power and BAE Systems.

The Government spending watchdog, the Office for Budget Responsibility, has warned no deal could force the UK into recession and increase borrowing by £30bn a year even under a conservative estimate.

Belfast Telegraph


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