Prime Minster sets up 5 new “Business Councils” to advise on Brexit.

One of first things Theresa May did when taking over from David Cameron in 2016 was to disband his “Business Council” – concerned about the warnings coming from industry about the effects on Britain resulting from Brexit.

Yesterday she established 5 Business Councils to provide Government with Brexit advice and policy recommendations.  Each of the councils will: meet three times a year - twice with Mrs May and once with a senior cabinet minister; be co-chaired by two business leaders; have about "10 members representing core sectors of the UK economy; and a representative from the UK's key business groups.

Why now?  The initiative comes just days after more than 70 business figures signed a letter to the Sunday Times calling for a public vote on the UK's Brexit deal – with a group called ‘Business for a People's Vote’ to be launched tomorrow (Thursday, 8 November).

And why split the voices of industry and commerce leaders into 5 separate arbitrary groups?

Well, there are strict protocols for Government working groups.  By signing up, participating organisations will be privy to privileged information – and the working rules may preclude them commenting about Brexit until authorised to do so.

Clever.  We note that each of the smaller federations, FSB, EEF, BCC…have been split up and posted one into each of the groups – maybe divide and conquer is in play rather than allowing a unified voice against the CBI – which, incidentally, gets two shouts – the CBI DG in one group and the CBI President in another.

There is no question that big names are included – including executives from BT, BAE, Rolls-Royce, Prudential, Santander, Tesco, Timpson, ITV and GSK will attend, as well as representatives from the CBI, Institute of Directors, EEF, British Chambers of Commerce and the Federation of Small Business.

Sir Roger Carr, chairman of BAE Systems and co-chair of the committee looking at the industrial, manufacturing and infrastructure sectors, said: "We are a vital part of the wealth creating machinery of the country where improved training, productivity and exporting will be the cornerstones of our global success.

Downing Street said the co-chairs would be responsible for preparing each council's agenda, ensuring all members were briefed and driving progress on major opportunities for their business sectors.

It all represents quite a change from 2016.

The formation of these councils follows a special audience with the prime minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond at the Guildhall in London last week - and a dial in teleconference for 150 chief executives with Theresa May the week before.

Given the fact they employ millions of people and have a practical understanding of the challenges presented by Brexit, they are uniquely positioned to advise the Government.  However, many of the participants privately - and quite a lot of them of them publicly - have said that Brexit in any form presents a real threat to the economy and people's prosperity.

So, if the prime minister's new best friends on these advisory councils aren't truly convinced the UK is on the right track - why are they giving the impression they think it is?

Ultimately, most business leaders know that the UK needs to avert a no-deal scenario - something that almost all of them view as profoundly damaging to business, the economy and living standards.

We can only conclude that participants in the new business councils have, however reluctantly, accepted Brexit is going to happen - and want to help minimise the damage to their own organisations and the Nation.

We wish them well.

John ShuttleworthComment