What Boris Johnson said next to business

Boris Johnson Image copyright Reuters

Boris Johnson attempted to mend some fences with the business community this morning.

His infamous expletive caused widespread shock within industry and highlighted for many how relations had soured between business and the party that used to be its natural champion.

He started by telling the 40 or so business leaders that those remarks had been taken out of context. The truth, he said, was that he had always loved business, and attendees I've spoken to were prepared to believe that his comment was indeed an off-the-cuff Borisism.

He was his usual charismatic self and he struck a positive note for the commercial future of the UK and the role of business as being seen as a force for good. That all went down very well.

However, when pressed on what his plan is - people were less convinced.

Mr Johnson's plan appeared to be to defer the negotiations over the problematic Irish backstop till after the UK leaves the EU on 31 October. He proposed extending the transition period till December 2021, which would give everyone enough time to negotiate a free-trade deal and come up with the technology to ensure no physical infrastructure would be required at the Irish border.

This plan is roughly the same as the one suggested by Kit Malthouse. A plan that was dismissed by the EU as it required the backstop to be replaced by a solution that does not yet exist and therefore couldn't be considered a backstop at all.

When asked whether he was prepared to leave with no deal on 31 October, he said that it was not his preferred option, but we had to prepare for no-deal and if necessary go through with it.

One attendee I spoke to felt that "his heart wasn't in that comment", another said, "the look in his eyes made you question whether he really meant that".

This is the crucial question for most businesses. It appears that even when he gives a fairly straight answer, some businesses still don't think - perhaps because they don't want to hear - that no-deal is very much on the table as far as Boris Johnson is concerned.

He left Liz Truss, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, to answer questions after he left the breakfast. The attendees who I spoke to found her unconvincing - "she lost the room" according to one. As a long-time Johnson lieutenant she may yet win herself a big job.

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