U.K. Business Disgruntled by Downing Street Brexit Briefing

U.K. business leaders were left disgruntled after a Downing Street briefing in which U.K. Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove likened Brexit to moving house.

Gove said leaving the EU will come with upfront costs but long-term benefits during a 20-minute conference call on Tuesday with senior figures from U.K. industry, according to three people present who asked not to be identified because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson also joined the discussion, urging firms to prepare for Britain’s looming exit from the EU’s single market and customs union at the year-end.

“It is vital that everybody on this call takes seriously the need to get ready, because whatever happens –- whether it’s Canada or Australia –- change is going to happen,” Johnson said, according to a statement from 10 Downing Street, referring to the possibilities of leaving the EU with or without a trade deal. “There is a big opportunity for this country and we want to help all of you to seize that opportunity.”

The two acknowledged that businesses had been busy dealing with the pandemic, but nevertheless said they should be preparing for the changes Brexit will bring.

The brevity of the call, the lack of detail about the government’s plans, and the fact that not all participants were able to ask questions left some feeling irritated.

One person said Johnson’s failure to provide full clarity on what Britain’s trade relations with the EU will look like from Jan. 1 was particularly aggravating.

Talks between the U.K. and EU over a post-Brexit trade deal are mired in a stalemate after a call between the two sides’ chief negotiators on Tuesday failed to yield a breakthrough.

Another person on the call suggested it likely marked the start of a blame game over the lack of adequate preparations for Britain’s exit from the bloc. They said the the government cannot say it has had a dialog with business over Brexit.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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