Theresa May’s lurch to a “hard Brexit” stance on EU withdrawal risks destroying Britain’s hopes of remaining an open economy, the head of the CBI has warned.
The business body’s director general Carolyn Fairbairn expressed alarm at the direction of government policies following the fiasco of attempts to get companies to list their foreign workers.
Ms Fairbairn warned that the Prime Minister’s insistence on an immigration crackdown, which dominated the Tory conference, could “close the door” to the UK staying an open trading economy.
As ministers scrambled to abandon the plan to “name and shame” companies with migrant workers after it provoked a damning backlash, the CBI chief expressed deep business concern about the post-referendum drift of government thinking.
Ms Fairbairn told The Times that businesses were appalled at the idea, stating: “They regard it as an indication that it is somehow a shameful thing to be attracting the best talent from around the world, rather than a source of pride.”
The CBI chief warned that jobs and communities would suffer if ministers allowed a post-referendum divide between government and enterprise to form.
“What we have heard over the last few days, if you add up the messages in total, are signs that the door is being closed, to an extent, on the open economy, that has helped fuel investment,” she said.
With the plan to list foreign workers provoking uproar, the Government went into retreat with Education Secretary Justine Greening, saying: “This is not data that will be published. There will be absolutely no naming and shaming.”
David Cameron’s pro-Brexit former policy guru Steve Hilton insisted the idea was worse than Donald Trump’s plan to ban some Muslims from America if he became president.