Theresa May has been told by the leaders of some of Europe’s biggest companies that “clarity and certainty” is needed over Brexit because “time is running out”.
Following a meeting at 10 Downing Street on Wednesday, the business bosses issued the prime minister with a warning that “uncertainty causes less investment”.
The group met Mrs May to discuss the UK’s future trade relationship with the EU, on which Brussels has imposed a deadline of October for a final agreement.
Executives at the talks included Carl-Henric Svanberg, the outgoing chairman of BP and chairman of Volvo; Nestle chairman Paul Bulcke; BMW CEO and chairman Harald Kruger; Royal Mail’s outgoing CEO Moya Greene; Vodafone CEO Vittorio Colao; and Erich Clementi, the chairman of IBM Europe who is also deputy chairman of the supervisory board at E.ON SE.
Image: Theresa May has until October to agree a Brexit deal
They were among around 50 members of the European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT), which is made up of leaders of major multinational companies of European parentage.
The companies represented by ERT members have combined revenues of more than €2.25trn (£1.97trn) and employ 6.8m people in Europe.
In a statement released after Wednesday’s meeting, the ERT said: “We appreciate the prime minister’s openness to ERT views and were able to express our own views and concerns.
“The uninterrupted flow of goods is essential to both the EU and UK economies.
“This must be frictionless as with a customs union.
“We need clarity and certainty, because time is running out. Uncertainty causes less investment.”
Video: HMRC warns of £20bn bill for ‘max fac’ Brexit
A spokesperson for the prime minister said: “The PM recognised the necessity of providing certainty for businesses, pointing to the agreement of an implementation period at the European Council in March to provide time to allow businesses to prepare for the new arrangements.”
The government is currently contemplating two different options for post-Brexit customs arrangements after Mrs May ruled out membership of a customs union with the EU.
The prime minister has been warned by the HMRC that the customs option favoured by her cabinet’s Brexiteers would cost businesses up to £20bn per year.
On Tuesday, Downing Street called for the EU to ditch “soundbites and negative anonymous briefings” in Brexit talks following reports of a bad-tempered phase of negotiations.
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It came after Brussels recently accused the UK of “chasing a fantasy” and playing “hide and seek”.
EU leaders will discuss the UK’s departure at a summit next month, before which the government plans to publish a white paper setting out details about what it is seeking from a future relationship.