Sunday, July 21

Brussels slams the door on UK companies



EU shuts the door on UK companies Britain’s biggest companies are being frozen out of crucial discussions in Brussels, sparking fears their international operations could face swift “policy punishment” over the decision by voters to leave the EU.

Senior executives across the spectrum of industry sectors have told the Sunday Telegraph that they are now struggling to speak to EU officials, despite having operations and partnerships worth billions of euros on the continent.

It came as the urgent need for more trade and diplomacy expertise in London is sparking broader fears about the clout British companies are able to draw on further afield.

The Brussels representatives of some of the largest FTSE 100 companies are finding that calls go unreturned, discussion papers are not shared and invitations to key meetings are no longer extended. One source said: “We’re finding now that nobody will take our calls. Britain is still a member state but we can’t get a hearing.”

Another experienced Brussels operator at one of Britain’s biggest global players said UK officials inside the European Commission were also being excluded, making it doubly difficult to hold any sway.

He said: “The single most disturbing thing is what’s happening within the arms of the British government based here. Those individuals who were amenable to business are either being side-lined or nudged out of key roles.

“French officials and diplomats are the ones most eager to use the situation to their advantage.”

The developments are early signs of the problems British business may face as Theresa May prepares to trigger Article 50 by the end of March.

The EU is working on crucial legislation on areas including banking, energy, telecoms, media and consumer products.

According to the Great Repeal Bill, announced by Mrs May for the autumn Parliament, this legislation will be incorporated into UK law until it can be repealed at a later date, meaning legislation is being developed now with limited British influence that could impact UK businesses.

The turmoil in Britain’s diplomatic corps is also affecting corporate giants outside the EU. Those that have relied on assistance from the Foreign Office to do business and win regulatory approval in far-flung territories are finding diplomats tied up in Brexit work.

A spokesman for the European Commission denied there had been any change in attitude towards British business. He said: “The European Commission continues to meet with many British companies and other stakeholders and will not stop doing so.”

However, the spokesman warned that officials would not discuss the EU’s position on the detail of Britain’s exit from the EU with businesses.

He said: “Future negotiations… with the UK over its departure from the EU, however, will of course be conducted with the UK Government, though clearly stakeholders from all over the EU will continue to make their views known.”