CBI chief throws weight behind Chancellor

The president of Britain’s biggest business lobbying group has urged ministers to unite behind Philip Hammond following calls from a pro-Brexit politician for the Chancellor to be sacked in any forthcoming Cabinet reshuffle.

Speaking to Sky News, Paul Drechsler said that Mr Hammond was working “tirelessly… to get the best possible deal for the UK and should be unambiguously supported in his efforts” to secure a lengthy post-Brexit transition period.

His remark, which represents a rare public intervention by a CBI president to endorse an individual politician within a warring Cabinet, came as a spokesman for the Prime Minister insisted that Mr Hammond retained Theresa May’s full confidence.

Mr Drechsler said the UK was “facing the most complex challenge of the post-war period as we prepare to leave the EU”.

He added: “Business wants to see the Government united and working together in the national interest in these challenging and turbulent times.”

The CBI president’s words underline the sense of anxiety in parts of the private sector about the trajectory of the Government’s Brexit negotiations.

Mr Drechsler, who has played a prominent role in the debate about potential transition arrangements, has previously expressed concerns about the possibility of a hard Brexit and any reversion to World Trade Organisation rules after March 2019.

Image:Chancellor Philip Hammond ‘should be unambiguously supported’, the CBI’s president says

A report in Friday’s Daily Mail quoted several pro-Brexit company bosses, including Tim Martin of the pub chain JD Wetherspoon, who said the Chancellor was being “too gloomy” about the UK’s economic prospects.

Lord Lawson, the former chancellor, said that Mr Hammond’s decision not to spend money preparing for a no-deal Brexit was “very close to sabotage”.

Mr Drechsler’s sentiments were echoed by a number of other business leaders.

Sir Mike Rake, the chairman of BT Group and Worldpay, said: “The Chancellor has widespread support and respect of the business community, and clearly understands the significant economic consequences of a hard Brexit.”

Both Mr Drechsler and Sir Mike were vocal supporters of the Remain campaign before last year’s referendum, with the CBI’s stance attracting some controversy and prompting the resignation of pro-Brexit members including JCB, the industrial manufacturer.

The row about Mr Hammond’s role in the Brexit talks reflects continuing Cabinet divisions on the issues of transition and preparations for a no-deal exit from the EU.

Despite ministers’ efforts at the Conservative Party conference to dismiss suggestions of a split, reports this week said that a Cabinet meeting this week had again exposed that disunity.