Industry hits out at ‘shambolic’ Johnson/Gove Brexit call

Alan Tovey
·3-min read
Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson

Some participants were given as little as two hours notice that Boris Johnson would be on Tuesday's "disastrous" call during which the prime minister and Michael Gove urged business leaders to be better prepared for Britain crashing out of the EU without a deal.

About 250 senior industry leaders took park in Tuesday’s conference call, during which the Cabinet Office minister likened the transition to “moving house” and the Prime Minister made a reference to roulette. 

Mr Johnson spoke for 10 minutes about the “great opportunities to come” from Brexit before Mr Gove answered three pre-approved questions.

However, some attendees were given as little as two hours to prepare for the event, with others only told late on Monday night that the PM would be addressing executives.

Multiple sources told The Telegraph that the call was originally billed as a “low-level update on Brexit” from a junior Cabinet minister. This resulted in many companies deciding less senior staff should listen in.

Some then received an email on Monday night inviting them to a Zoom conference call with Mr Johnson and Mr Gove; others said they learned the call was being upgraded only hours before. 

One source described the Cabinet Office’s organisation of the call as “shambolic” considering its importance.

Brexit: what business wants
Brexit: what business wants

They added: “The email to the chief executive of one major business went to someone who has been replaced, meaning the company only found out about it just before it happened.”

Another person described the rushed and chaotic organisation as “typical of the way business is being messed around over Brexit”. 

Mr Johnson came under fire from those on the call for using it as a “tick-box exercise … so Government can say it has consulted with business”.

The prime miniser left the call after he finished speaking, handing over to Mr Gove to deal with questions. One person described this as a “disrespectful” move which underlined Mr Johnson’s lack of interest in business. 

The prime minister was described as “sympathetic” to the industry’s worries, but “made it clear that the UK is leaving and there will be no negotiation after January 1, and it is critically important business gets on with that”.

The Government is looking to strike trade deals with a number of partners including the US after Brexit.

Mr Johnson is also reported to have described deadlocked talks as rien ne vas plus, or “no more bets” at a casino game.

Richard Burnett, the chief executive of the Road Haulage Association who asked a question about fears over transport between the UK and Northern Ireland during the call, said the event was a “missed opportunity” by the Government.

He added: “The PM does not know how to communicate with business. We need clear direction and strategic planning and he did not provide that. 

“Mr Gove previously told us this is not a blame game, and it is about getting business on side so we are prepared. That did not happen on the call. Instead the Government sent out a confusing message.”

The Cabinet Office did not respond to a request for comment.