CBI boss goes to war with Boris over No Deal Brexit: Business leader triggers outrage by claiming firms will be ‘mired in a swamp’
- Carolyn Fairbairn said it was a ‘myth’ that firms could ever be prepared for leaving the EU without a trade deal
- Her outburst directly contradicts briefings by No 10 advisers
- She was painted as one of the protagonists of so-called Project Fear in the EU referendum campaign
The powerful lobby group boss accused of being an architect of Project Fear has launched a blistering attack on the Government’s Brexit plans that puts business at war with Downing Street.
Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, director general of the CBI, last night set big business on a collision course with Boris Johnson and his chief adviser Dominic Cummings by warning that a No Deal Brexit would leave firms ‘mired in a swamp of uncertainty’.
In comments to The Mail on Sunday that were lambasted by MPs and City grandees, the CBI boss said it was a ‘myth’ that firms could ever be prepared for leaving the EU without a trade deal.
CBI boss Carolyn Fairbairn said it was a ‘myth’ that firms could ever be prepared for leaving the EU without a trade deal
Her outburst is likely to infuriate the Prime Minister because it directly contradicts briefings by No 10 advisers, who are understood to have pressured business leaders to support the Government’s stance on Brexit.
Dame Carolyn, who as head of the CBI represents 190,000 companies including giant firms on the FTSE 100, was painted as one of the protagonists of so-called Project Fear in the EU referendum campaign after warning that Brexit would cost the economy £100billion.
However, she had appeared to soften the CBI’s stance earlier this year. In July, she talked of a ‘new spirit of pragmatism and flexibility’ over leaving without a deal.
But last night, on the eve of the Tory party conference, she said: ‘Businesses are just beyond disillusioned now with the political brinkmanship that is going on and the looming risk of No Deal.
‘The exasperation and frustration is universal. We must have one deal that protects jobs and livelihoods. The alternative of a No Deal is that we get mired in a swamp where we’ll need hundreds of smaller deals that will begin from scratch – negotiations from scratch – with all of the arguments continuing endlessly.’
She added: ‘One of the really big myths out there is that firms can be ready in a way that won’t damage the economy. There is another myth that No Deal would mean the end of uncertainty for business. Nothing can be further from the truth.’
Her comments immediately sparked anger among Brexiteers and set the scene for clashes at the Tory conference, which Dame Carolyn is set to attend.
Fairbairn’s comments set big business on a collision course with Boris Johnson and his chief adviser Dominic Cummings
Former Brexit Minister Steve Baker said: ‘This is a gross attempt by the CBI to intervene in the Conservative party conference.
‘It’s time to start listening not to the voice of big business, but the entrepreneurial section of business where we’ll soon find there are plenty of enthusiasts for leaving the EU on time.’
Veteran City investor Jon Moulton said: ‘Carolyn has been a firm Remainer throughout – [so there’s] no doubt of the intent of her statements.’
MPs have voted to block a No Deal exit, but the Prime Minister insists he will take the UK out of the EU on October 31 with or without an agreement. Under a No Deal Brexit, the UK would use World Trade Organisation terms and attempt to strike individual agreements with various countries.
Dame Carolyn – who was awarded her damehood in the Queen’s birthday honours list in June – said Britain could sign bilateral deals with France, Germany or the European Commission. But she warned this would create a ‘confused, chaotic and highly uncertain situation’.
During the referendum campaign the CBI was accused of scaremongering after commissioning research by auditors PwC that concluded that 550,000 jobs would be lost over four years in the ‘best case scenario’ and 950,000 in a No Deal exit. The CBI has since campaigned for Britain to stay in a customs union.
Dame Carolyn said: ‘We know that many businesses do have plans approved by their boards to move supply chains out of the UK if there is a No Deal.
‘The trouble is that these rational business decisions will damage UK plc. It is bleak for our country.’
A Government spokesman said: ‘We will be leaving the EU on October 31, and it is our preference to do so with a new deal. We have stepped up preparations across all sectors, making £108million available to support businesses to ensure they are ready and can take advantage of the opportunities of our future outside the EU.’