May Seeks to Reassure U.K.’s Small Companies After Brexit Vote

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British Prime Minister Theresa May speaks with a worker as she visits a workshop in London.

Photographer: WPA Pool/Getty Images
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U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May will seek to reassure small and medium-sized companies and help them drum up business in the aftermath of June’s Brexit vote, as surveys suggest corporate confidence is collapsing.

May will address a meeting of companies and trade associations, including the Federation of Small Businesses, in London on Thursday, her office said in an e-mailed statement. She aims to gather their views on Brexit negotiations and how the government can help them seek opportunities in new markets, while stressing companies employing fewer than 250 people are the “backbone” of the British economy.

Companies should “be able to take advantage of the opportunities presented by Brexit, such as exporting to new destinations,” May said in the statement. “I want to build an economy that works for all, and that means working with, and listening to, smaller firms.”

With the timing and details of negotiations to exit the European Union still uncertain, and policy makers anticipating a downturn in the economy, May is trying to restore calm to a business community anxious about the potential fallout from the June 23 referendum. By addressing smaller companies, she’s sticking to her message that the new government’s focus is not just on “the privileged few,” distancing herself from the accusations of elitism that dogged her predecessor David Cameron.

Business confidence among small and medium-sized companies fell at the fastest pace since the aftermath of the financial crisis in January 2009 in the quarter to July, a survey by the Confederation of British Industry showed on Wednesday. 

Thursday’s meeting comes two days after May chaired the government’s first meeting of a committee focusing on the economy and industrial strategy. May said she will seek companies’ views on how to boost productivity and how to kick-start economic growth.

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