UK minister tells companies to stop Brexit warnings

LONDON (Reuters) – A British minister accused Airbus [AIR.PA] and other major companies of issuing "completely inappropriate" threats and undermining Prime Minister Theresa May in a sign of growing tensions with business leaders over Brexit.

The Secretary of State for Health of Great Britain Jeremy Hunt arrives at Downing Street in London on May 15, 2018. REUTERS / Peter Nicholls

The aircraft manufacturer Airbus issued its final warning on the impact of the Britain's exit from the European Union, saying that a withdrawal without an agreement would force him to reconsider his long-term position and put thousands of British jobs at risk.

Other European companies with major operations in Britain have also started speaking two years after the Brexit vote, expressing concern about the lack of clarity on the terms of trade when Britain leaves in March.

"It was completely inappropriate for companies to make these kinds of threats for a very simple reason: we are at an absolutely critical time in discussions about Brexit and what that means is that we have to support Theresa May," Health El Secretary Jeremy Hunt told the BBC.

"The more we undermine Theresa May, the more likely we are to end up with a sugar candy that will be an absolute disaster for everyone," he added.

The German automaker BMW ( BMWG.DE ) warned that the company would have to make contingency plans in a few months if the government did not soon clarify its post-Brexit position and the German industrial group Siemens ( SIEGn.DE ) said that it needs clarity on how its operations should be organized.

The leaders of the five main corporate pressure groups also warned the prime minister over the weekend that the current uncertainty about Brexit could cost the economy billions of pounds.

Hunt, a senior figure in the government who is seen as a possible future prime minister, dismissed the "siren voices" that say the Brexit negotiations are not going well and said that people should ignore them.

With only nine months until Britain leaves the EU on March 29, it is not very clear how the trade will flow since May, who is dealing with a divided party, is still trying to reach an agreement with the block.

Business leaders are increasingly concerned that their concerns are being ignored and they are stepping up their contingency plans should Britain withdraw from the EU without an agreement.

Foreign Minister Boris Johnson was quoted in the Telegraph newspaper by two sources over the weekend, dismissing the concerns of business leaders about the impact of Brexit, using rude language in a meeting with diplomats of the EU.

A spokesman for the foreign affairs office questioned whether Johnson had used inappropriate language and said he had been attacking corporate lobbyists.

Around 100,000 EU supporters marched through central London on Saturday to demand that the government conduct a final public vote on Brexit terms, organizers said.

Reports by Andrew MacAskill; Edition by Toby Chopra / Keith Weir


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