Plea: Lord Livingston wants change of attitude
Theresa May’s Government was last night accused of ‘declaring war on the business community’ as a number of heavyweight Tory donors blasted the attitudes of senior Brexiteers.
Bosses said relations between the Tories and business have hit a low not seen since the industrial strife of the 1970s due to recent comments from senior party figures Boris Johnson, Iain Duncan Smith and Jeremy Hunt.
Hedge fund manager John Armitage, one of the biggest donors, having given £1 million before last year’s General Election, last night warned May’s Government against an ‘antagonist relationship with business’.
Armitage, the Remain-backing boss of hedge fund Egerton Capital, said: ‘I feel that threatening frictionless trade with Europe is a very high-risk strategy.’
Many bosses are unhappy about the inflammatory statements of Johnson who said ‘F*** business’ when asked about their concerns, and about remarks by Jeremy Hunt that it was ‘inappropriate’ for them to express their misgivings.
Tory donor Julian Granville, boss of clothes retailer Boden, said: ‘Why would it not be right for these companies to make these warnings? I hope that these comments were momentary lapses on behalf of those three people and that they were getting frustrated so said things they didn’t really mean.’
Sir Andrew Cook, chairman of Sheffield-based engineers William Cook, who has given more than £1.2 million to the party, has previously threatened to withdraw funding from the Tories if the UK leaves the single market. Electoral Commission files show Sir Andrew has not made a donation to the Conservatives since the referendum.
Iain Duncan Smith added fuel to the fire when he linked the CBI with the Nazis in the 1930s. Jeremy Hunt’s comments were in response to warnings from Airbus and BMW about how Brexit may affect their businesses in the UK.
Bosses said relations between the Tories and business have hit a low not seen since the industrial strife of the 1970s due to recent comments from senior party figures Boris Johnson, Iain Duncan Smith and Jeremy Hunt
Dragons’ Den star Theo Paphitis, who has donated to Brexit Secretary David Davis, said he and other entrepreneurs feel ‘disenfranchised’ by the Tories. He added: ‘The Tory party have always been in my past the party for business. Sadly, in their latest reincarnation… clueless would be an understatement.
‘What you have at the moment is a Government that’s not doing its day job.
‘We’re at the coalface, doing the work, while they’re swanning around, having a punch-up in the playground, causing immeasurable damage to our businesses and the economy in the process.’
Another Tory donor boss, who asked not to be named, described Duncan Smith as a ‘dim, nasty individual’ and said of his comments on the CBI: ‘Facts don’t seem to be something these guys are concerned about.’
Lord Livingston, a former Tory Trade Minister and BT boss who is now chairman of Dixons Carphone, defended the right of firms such as Airbus and car parts maker Unipart to voice their fears: ‘If they don’t speak up for their businesses and employees’ future, who else will? They are the experts on their own supply chain.’
Livingston pleaded with Johnson to show a more pro-business attitude.
The pressure comes after Pimlico Plumbers boss Charlie Mullins and the late Peter Stringfellow stopped donating to the party due to Brexit. Mullins, now backing the Liberal Democrats, said: ‘It feels like the Tories have declared war on the business community.’
One senior FTSE 250 chief executive, who asked not to be named, accused Ministers of trying to ‘bully’ firms out of making Brexit warnings. ‘It’s incredibly disappointing that apparently people who have a right to speak and warn are being told to shut up,’ he said.