Leaked internal emails from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) cast doubts on the body’s public support for the draft Brexit deal, in a fresh headache for the prime minister who is stepping up efforts to sell her deal to the public.
Ex-Brexit secretary Dominic Raab also ramped up the pressure by suggesting that the draft agreement was “worse” than staying in the European Union.
The leaked emails come as Ms May was preparing to travel to Brussels, where EU leaders will be asked to approve the deal at a special summit on Sunday.
The CBI, which represents more than 190,000 businesses, offered its support to the prime minister on the draft agreement when its deputy director general Josh Hardie publicly stated the UK was “on the cusp of a much-needed agreement”.
However, leaked emails, obtained by ITN, revealed Nicole Sykes, the CBI’s head of EU negotiations, argued there was “no need to give credit to negotiators I think, because it’s not a good deal”.
CBI head of news Chris Grummett responded: “Have left the credit in given we ‘want’ this to go through.”
Pro-EU campaigners seized on the comments as a sign that even the prime minister’s allies are concerned about the plans, and urged Ms May to change course.
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable said: “The CBI is like other business lobbying organisations that seek to maintain a polite approach to government, but its members see Brexit is damaging.
“The one thing that is persuading them to give some qualified support to the deal is the fear of no deal.”
Labour MP Virendra Sharma, who backs the Best for Britain campaign, said: “Even the prime minister’s allies think this is a bad deal. She can’t convince her party, and even the CBI have privately panned her deal.
“Dutifully they have trotted out their line on Monday but these emails show they don’t believe it by Thursday. Of course any deal is better than no deal, but both are bad deals.”
Mr Raab, who quit the cabinet last week in protest at the Brexit deal, said the PM’s withdrawal proposals were worse than staying in the EU.
“I’m not going to advocate staying in the EU,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“But if you just presented me terms, this deal or EU membership, because we would effectively be bound by the same rules but without the control or voice over them, yes, I think this would be even worse than that.”
He said MPs would “inevitably” vote down the deal and ministers should contemplate leaving without one.
However, Damian Hinds, education secretary, defended the plan, saying support would grow in parliament as MPs considered the prospect of leaving the EU without a deal.
“The deal that we have on the table is a strong deal. It is a good, balanced deal. As people reflect on what the alternatives are, I think people are going to come to see this is a very good deal for Britain,” he said.
“If we weren’t to pass this deal, I think it becomes rather unpredictable what happens next. There is a risk on the one hand beyond that of no Brexit at all – and there are people trying to thwart Brexit – and there is also a risk of no deal.
“Neither of those two things are attractive. This is why I believe this deal, which is a strong deal, will gain more and more traction.”
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