U.K.'s May Invites 120 Business Leaders to Discuss Brexit

(Bloomberg) -- U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May invited 120 business leaders to a Brexit question and answer session next week to update them on her strategy for unblocking the stalled negotiations with the European Union.

With time running out to secure a deal, business groups are desperate for certainty over the kind of trade terms the divorce will deliver. In particular, chief executive officers want reassurances that a 21-month transition period following Britain’s departure from the bloc in March will be secured.

If the U.K and the European Union fail to strike a withdrawal agreement, there will be no formal transition period to cushion the impact of Brexit.

May’s meeting with businesses, to be co-hosted by Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond two days after he delivers his annual budget, is the first of its kind, May’s spokesman, James Slack, told reporters in London Thursday.

“The prime minister wants to make sure business are fully engaged in what we are doing and to provide them with information and updates,” Slack said. Hammond is due to deliver his budget statement to Parliament on Oct. 29 and will answer questions on its contents, he said.

Separately, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab met on Thursday with leaders of the British Chambers of Commerce and its counterparts in Germany, Denmark, France, Ireland, the Netherlands and Belgium. The BCC said it “pressed the importance of urgently reaching a deal” on Brexit.

‘Unresolved’

“Too many business-critical issues currently remain unresolved,” Hannah Essex, the BCC’s director of policy, said in a statement. “We highlighted the need for businesses to have clarity about the future relationship with the EU.”

Negotiations with the EU remain stuck on the vexed question of how to avoid customs checks at Ireland’s border with the U.K. Senior ministers had been due to gather to discuss the issue with May on Thursday, according to a person familiar with the matter.

But another person briefed on the Cabinet’s plans said no such meeting is taking place, and the Evening Standard newspaper reported the discussion had been canceled. The U.K.’s proposal to guarantee the trade of goods over the Irish border remains free-flowing isn’t ready for consideration by the Cabinet, according to one official.

Irish premier Leo Varadkar said Thursday the U.K. “sort of” wants to stay in the EU’s customs union, despite May’s insistence that the country will leave the bloc’s common tariff arrangements in the long term. Asked if May agreed with Varadkar, her spokesman said: “No.”

Speaking in Parliament on Thursday, Raab said the government needs to prepare for the worst-case scenario of authorities in Calais, France adopting a “go-slow” approach to goods crossing the U.K.-France border. While the failure of talks to reach an agreement is “unlikely,” it’s still possible, he said.

“There certainly is a risk of no deal, especially if the EU engage in a deliberately intransigent approach,” Raab said.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.