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GSK among businesses wooed as Brexit reckoning nears

Emma Walmsley to co-chair panel with supermarket CEO

London

The UK government has unveiled a number of new business councils, as it seeks to convince major firms that it is tuned into their needs – and that Brexit won’t spell disaster for trade.

Downing Street has announced today the creation of five new business councils, including one to be co-chaired by GSK’s chief executive Emma Walmsley and Dave Lewis, the CEO of supermarket giant Tesco.

This panel is to be called the Consumer, Retail and Life Sciences Council – although the logic of bringing together these diverse sectors into one committee has already been called into question.

EW

This is particularly the case when a sector-specific group, the Life Sciences Council was launched in May this year, bringing together government ministers and international pharma and biotech leaders.

The four other new councils will be similarly diverse, including panels such as the Telecoms, Creative, Technology and Media Council and Services - Financial, Professional and Education Services Council.

The government says each council will aim to meet three times a year, twice with the Prime Minister Theresa May and once with a senior cabinet minister, to provide high-level advice and policy recommendations on the critical issues affecting business.

The councils will also be a forum for government to share developing policy ideas and seek the views of members.

The new initiative comes as the day of reckoning over the Brexit ‘divorce settlement’ approaches, with continued delay increasing the chances of a chaotic, no deal Brexit.

While Theresa May has claimed a deal is ‘95% complete’, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier says it remains as far away as ever until agreement in reached on the Irish border and the contentious ‘backstop’ question.

The new councils come days after more than 70 business leaders signed a letter to the Sunday Times calling for a public vote on the UK's Brexit deal.

In terms of Brexit warnings, however, the two sectors do have something in common. Supermarket bosses have warned that a no deal Brexit from 29 March 2019 could see imports slow to a trickle, and could result in empty supermarkets shelves. Pharma leaders have similarly warned that no customs agreement would mean medicines shortages.

Recent days have seen the chief executive of Waterstones James Daunt and former Sainsbury's supremo Justin King among those saying a "destructive hard Brexit" would damage the UK economy.

A group called Business for a People's Vote will be launched tomorrow, although no life sciences firms are believed to be taking part.

The prime minister has, however, made it clear that she opposes any calls for a new referendum.

Article by
Andrew McConaghie

7th November 2018

From: Regulatory

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