'Brexit is like moving house' Gove tells business leaders

Alan Tovey
·3-min read
Michael Gove
Michael Gove

Michael Gove has compared Brexit to moving house in a "disastrous" call with business leaders.

On a 20-minute conference call with trade bodies and bosses from 250 leading companies, Cabinet Minister Mr Gove and Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned UK firms to prepare for a possible no-deal end to talks with the European Union.

Mr Gove described Brexit as being "like moving house, it’s a hassle at first but you are upgrading”.

One business leader said: "The idea is that [no-deal preparations] are in businesses’ court now.”

Another source described the call as "anodyne" and a third said it was “shocking, embarrassing and not constructive”, amid growing fears that the Government will seek to blame any disruption to trade on companies' failure to prepare.

Most of Britain's business chiefs and lobby groups either privately or publicly backed Remain, with some subsequently accused of refusing to accept the referendum result.

Brexit: what business wants
Brexit: what business wants

Mr Johnson spoke for 10 minutes before leaving in what one person described as a “disrespectful” move underlining his lack of interest in business.

The Prime Minister is also reported to have described deadlocked talks as “rien ne vas plus”, which means "no more bets" in the casino game roulette.

One listener said: “It felt like it was to rally business and tell us about the ‘great opportunities to come’ from Brexit the Government sees.

“They didn’t use the phrase ‘sunny uplands of Brexit’, but that’s what they were saying.”

The call was “not bad tempered, there was no opportunity for it to be bad tempered”, said one person on it, adding the event “was carefully stage-managed. Just three obviously pre-selected questions were taken”.

Another source said: "It felt like an exercise so the Government can say it has formally talked to business. The Prime Minister does not have a grasp of detail and that’s what Brexit is about.

"It feels like only in the past few weeks they have realised this and it’s incredibly scary, especially as we don't have a lot of time.”

One listener argued they had learned nothing not easily accessible in the newspapers. They said: “It felt like an exercise so the Government can say it has formally talked to business.”

Another person on the call said:  “It was a big call with a massive audience. The Prime Minister stuck to what he said last week, no one learned anything.”

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A focus of the call was on smaller businesses which are likely to be harder hit as they are less well equipped to  handle the transition than larger operations, with signals from Mr Johnson and Mr Gove that support would be available for SMEs.

However, the group warned against larger companies passing  down through their supply chains to smaller firms the risks and costs from Brexit.

The Federation of Small Businesses asked a question about “transition vouchers”. These are aimed at businesses which need to change for the transition but can’t afford it, and could be used to fund new piece of equipment or services.

Mr Gove said the concept would be looked at and required “intense conversations”.  

The CBI asked about the need for a business taskforce to steer industry through Brexit, while the Road Haulage Association highlighted risks posed to transport of goods between the UK and Northern Ireland. 

One person on the call said: “Boris was sympathetic to concerns of business but made it clear we are leaving come what may and there will be no negotiation after January 1, and it is critically important business gets on with that.”

No 10 said the call saw Mr Johnson tell business this “should be a moment of change and dynamism for the UK, providing businesses with fantastic opportunities”.