No one likes us, we don’t care. The chant of Millwall football fans is fast becoming the Brexiteers’ response to any business that dares raise concerns about leaving the EU.
When the German car company BMW gently warns Downing Street that it might have to cut production at its UK plants if its suppliers face trade barriers it is told it should be “shouting at Brussels and Berlin” instead.
It is apparently Europe’s fault that the British Government has chosen unilaterally to withdraw from the customs union.
When the huge UK employer Airbus feels its workforce should know that it is planning for a ‘no deal’ situation — ironically, the very thing the Brexit hardliners accuse the Prime Minister and Chancellor of failing to do – the Tories send out a Cabinet Minister to say it is a “totally inappropriate” intervention from a “siren voice”.
Instead, the job of this French-headquartered pan-European manufacturer should apparently be to “get behind Theresa May” — a ludicrous call that might have more credibility if the rest of Cabinet weren’t doing exactly the opposite.
When the CBI says an “ideological approach” to Brexit could “harm British prosperity” and the Institute of Directors calls for “less antagonism and more pragmatism” from the Government, Brexiteers dismiss the country’s major employers’ organisations as “reliably wrong on every major issue”.
Our Foreign Secretary summed up the approach of the Brexit cause he still seeks to lead in two words: “f*** business”. This, let’s be clear, is the advice of country’s top diplomat.
None of it was supposed to be like this. Businesses were going to be set free from Brussels red tape; exporters were going to be unleashed to do business across the globe; “frictionless trade” with the EU was going to be secured in what we were told was the “easiest” trade deal ever; French cheesemakers and German car manufacturers would be our allies in the negotiations.
The frustrations of the Brexiteers — as all their undeliverable promises are exposed — is spilling over into a deep loathing for the businesses that have to pick up the pieces of the economic mess they have created. So be it.
The real danger is that their petulance spills over into a broader war between the Conservative Party and business.
Already, there are some in the Tory ranks who see defining themselves against big corporations and the cold winds of the free market as the key to a revival of their fortunes. It is not.
May confronted by revolt over anti-business outbursts from ministers
But if the Tory message is “free markets have failed you, globalisation has left you behind, big business is the enemy, so we’re going to tear up the last fifty years of our economic and trade arrangements”, then they are in fact endorsing the message of Messrs Corbyn and McDonnell.
Conservatives succeed when they understand that free markets create the wealth that pays the taxes that funds our public services.
They win elections when they have business on their side. Waging war with our country’s employers rather than listening to their concerns is a recipe for economic and electoral disaster.
Millwall have been rising up the leagues because they do care what people think of them.
The Tories would be wise to do the same
(Article appeared in the London Evening Standard)