The head of a leading business organisation is pressing Theresa May for more clarity over the Brexit process to avoid firms “upping sticks” and leaving the country.
Stephen Martin, director general of the Institute of Directors (IoD), is among the top figures attending a meeting of a new business council in Downing Street, hosted by the Prime Minister.
Bosses from Tesco, Jaguar Land Rover and National Grid are also due at the summit later, with the aim of providing a direct link between business and the Government’s Brexit strategy.
Ahead of the meeting, Mr Martin echoed growing recent demands from business saying that he would be asking Mrs May for “more clarity and more certainty” over the process.
He told Sky News: “At the minute our members are very unclear about what the plan is of the Government and where we’re actually heading.”
His comments came as an IoD survey of 1,000 firms revealed that while the majority had made contingency plans for Brexit, only one in 10 had started to implement them.
Image: Business leaders are meeting Theresa May in Downing Street
The IoD said the figures revealed a “window of opportunity” to save these companies from having to make big changes that could damage the UK economy.
It said the figures showed that there was “still plenty of opportunity for the Government to persuade them that our exit from the EU will be smooth”.
Mr Martin said: “Some changes and costs are inevitable no matter how we leave the EU, but the more information the Government can provide on the process of Brexit, the more companies will be reassured they do not have to jump to relocate staff of operations.”
He said that a year ago engagement with the Government had been “negligible” but this had since stepped up.
However, businesses remained “in the dark” about any transitional arrangements and future trading relationships with the EU, Mr Martin added, and they could not wait until the end of Brexit talks in 2019 to find out.
“At present we’re not seeing evidence of our members upping sticks and moving business elsewhere,” he said.
“But from our recent survey we’ve seen 57% look at contingency planning.”
Plans could involve employing people overseas rather than in the UK and deferring investment decisions, all of which could be “incredibly damaging for the economy”.
The Government said it was stepping up its dialogue with businesses to ensure their views were heard “loud and clear”.
A spokeswoman said: “We are determined to deliver a successful outcome from our negotiations with the EU, one that works for businesses across the UK.”
:: Meanwhile, Brexit Secretary David Davis returns to Brussels later to meet European Commission chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and conclude four days of talks on Britain’s exit from the European Union.