Global Business Chiefs Tell Theresa May What Worries Them

(Bloomberg) -- Theresa May got a sharp lesson in how Britain is perceived from abroad when two major investors told her they were worried about the country’s future.

Speaking at the Bloomberg Global Business Forum in New York, the prime minister set out an optimistic pitch to business, promising a welcoming environment with low corporate taxes. But in a question-and-answer session afterwards, it became clear that this on its own didn’t reassure her audience.

Stephen Schwarzman, CEO of Blackstone Group LP, opened by saying that his company had just made an investment in Britain -- “so I guess we are believers” -- before going on to set out his concerns. “Things could really go off with a bad Brexit and also a change of government,” he told May. “The thing that we really worry about is how bad can things get? We believe in the good thing. But in terms of just thinking about it from a risk management perspective it’s a little daunting for those of us on the outside.”

The comments, both about May’s Brexit negotiations and the possibility of her Conservatives losing power to Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, reminded the prime minister how closely boardrooms are watching her government, and how concerned they are about her prospects.

Ginni Rometty, CEO of International Business Machines Corp., had earlier made a similar point. “I’m one of your largest employers, as are many in the room,” she opened, before saying that Brexit was a concern for everyone there. “If you were us,” she asked, “what would you do in our shoes to be planning right now? What would you do now to balance that risk?”

May said she was “confident” she would get a deal with the European Union, then added: “But we have to make sure we’re prepared for any eventuality. And of course as a government we’re preparing for a deal and we’re preparing for no deal.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.