No 10 has been asking major UK companies to sign a letter supporting its Brexit strategy, despite concerns in the corporate world about how immigration and trade will be affected.
The letter, first seen by Sky News, was circulated to some FTSE 100 chiefs and others business leaders with a request that they consider signing by Friday.
It asked business leaders to say: “We all share an understanding that Brexit is happening, a commitment to ensure that we make a success of the outcome for the whole country, and a confidence that a global Britain has the potential to become one of the most productive economies of the 21st century.
“This month the government’s repeal bill will initiate a programme of legislation that will make Britain ready for life outside the EU. We believe this is a good time for employers to work with government and parliament to make a success of Brexit and secure a bright future for our country.”
It went on to say that the leaders “welcome the government’s commitment to negotiating an interim period so that firms can ensure they are ready to adapt to the changing relationships and thrive under the new partnership being created with the EU” and that they “stand ready to use their expertise and networks to cement future relationships”.
The letter ended: “As business leaders, we have a duty to our shareholders and employees to continue to grow our businesses and ensure that they remain strong.
“As part of this we are also determined to see the UK continue to be a prosperous and united force for good in the world and are ready to play our full part to achieve this as Britain leaves the European Union.”
Downing Street declined to comment on the leaked letter or to say whether any business leaders had signed the document.
But Theresa May’s spokesman said: “Business has an important voice in the conversation taking place over Brexit and we will continue to listen to them. One of our aims is to make sure we deliver a Brexit that is as smooth as possible for business.”
It is the second embarrassing leak for the government in 24 hours after the Guardian published a confidential Home Office document detailing plans to deter EU immigrants after Brexit and a new system of time-limited visas.
Downing Street and the Treasury have been trying to reach out to businesses more since the election, including hosting more summits on Brexit and reinstating David Cameron’s business advisory group.
The Labour MP Ben Bradshaw, asupporter of the Open Britain campaign group, said the leak was a sign businesses were opposing the government’s hard Brexit plan.
“Just today, businesses in sectors ranging from farming to hospitality have reacted with fury to the government’s leaked plans to damage our economy by carrying out a draconian crackdown on immigration from the EU,” he said.
“And UK businesses have been clear that they value our trade links with the European Union, and that leaving the single market and customs union will risk damaging our economy.
“If the government wants a better reception from British business, they should end their hard Brexit rhetoric and focus on maintaining the economic benefits of EU membership as they have promised.”