Michael Gove has triggered anger and disbelief by telling UK business leaders that Brexit is on a par with the “hassle” of moving house.
During a 20-minute conference call yesterday, the Cabinet Office minister and Boris Johnson warned trade bodies and bosses from 250 leading firms to prepare for a no-deal result from the ongoing negotiations with the EU.
Gove argued that quitting the bloc was “like moving house, it’s a hassle at first but you are upgrading”. But many of the bosses who dialled in for the 20-minute call remain unconvinced, with a source telling the Financial Times (FT) that the gain to be had from moving “depends which house you’re buying”.
Other sources told The Telegraph that the call was “anodyne” and “shocking, embarrassing and not constructive”. The event was “carefully stage-managed”, with “just three obviously pre-selected questions”, an insider said.
A government spokesperson said that Johnson had told the industry chiefs that this “should be a moment of change and dynamism for the UK, providing businesses with fantastic opportunities”.
But business leaders were left disappointed by the “perfunctory” conversation, with Johnson failing “to calm concerns over the lack of certainty or preparation”, the FT reports. The prime minister, who spoke for ten minutes, was also criticised for his “disrespectful” behaviour in leaving the call early, the paper adds.
“It felt like an exercise so the government can say it has formally talked to business,” a source told The Telegraph, adding that it is “incredibly scary” that Johnson “does not have a grasp of detail”.
Another said: “It felt like it was to rally business and tell us about the ‘great opportunities to come’ from Brexit the government sees. They didn’t use the phrase ‘sunny uplands of Brexit’, but that’s what they were saying.”
Adam Marshall, director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said that while Downing Street was presenting Brexit “like it’s a routine MOT test”, for many businesses it is “more like co-ordinating a moon landing”.