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May meets EU business leaders as Brexit tensions grow

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May / AFP PHOTO / Leon Neal

Prime Minister Theresa May will meet 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 tensions drove down the pound on currency markets, with the currency losing 1.0 percent against the euro and the dollar on Monday, falling to 89.13 pence and $1.3071 respectively, at around 0925 GMT.

The Sunday Times also reported that 40 MPs from May’s Conservative party have agreed to sign a letter of no confidence in the prime minister, 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 unauthorised meetings with Israeli officials — weakening May’s leadership.

The government is also under pressure to meet a two-week deadline set by the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier on Friday for a deal on exit terms ahead of the December EU summit.

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.

This week marks 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.

Keir Starmer, Brexit spokesman for the opposition Labour Party, which has tabled several amendments to the bill, wrote to May saying: “It has become increasingly clear that you alone do not have the authority to deliver a transitional deal with Europe”.

He urged the government to support Labour’s amendments, which are to be debated from Tuesday.

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BrexitBritainEUTheresa May


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