Theresa May is 'listening but not hearing'

Simon Jack
Business editor
@BBCSimonJackon Twitter

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Heading in opposite directions? Prime Minister Theresa May (L) and CBI director-general Carolyn Fairburn (R)

The prime minister got a reasonably warm reception from business leaders today, reflecting both her recent efforts to re-engage with them and their concern about the possibility of a no-deal situation if her solution is defeated.

Severn Trent's chief executive Liv Garfield said she was backing the PM.

"We have a deal on the table," the boss of the water company said. "Can we support it, can we invest in the back of it, can we use this deal to plan for the future and make business a success?

"I think we can and this is why I support it."

However, the prime minister didn't have universal support.

Free movement

In her speech, she chose to dwell on how her deal delivered on the promise to end free movement of people between the UK and the EU "once and for all".

But if she thought that would go down well, she had came to the wrong conference.

The director-general of the CBI, Carolyn Fairburn, said the prime minister's plans to make it harder to hire anyone from abroad making less than £30,000 was not good policy with unemployment at record lows.

"We have a real difference with government on immigration", she said. "They may be listening but they are not hearing.

"It is reasonable to want to control immigration but to do it this way which closes down access to workers which our construction companies and care homes need will damage our economy."

Despite concerns about immigration, most business leaders agree with Theresa May's withdrawal plan.

Of course, they can't vote but the CBI urged MPs who will, to consider the impact no deal might have on their local businesses, when they decide whether to kill this agreement just 19 weeks before the UK is due to leave.

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