Sunak Calls In Top UK Firms and Investors After CBI Implosion

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will hold talks with major UK firms and investors Monday as his government seeks to fill the void created by the implosion of Britain’s main business lobby.

(Bloomberg) — Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will hold talks with major UK firms and investors Monday as his government seeks to fill the void created by the implosion of Britain’s main business lobby.

Sunak has invited about 200 of the UK’s “highest-profile CEOs and C-suite business leaders” to an event in London for “direct and detailed discussions across key industries,” his office said in an emailed statement.

The event — called “Business Connect” — is being pitched by Downing Street as a “conference that champions the dynamism of UK businesses to unlock innovation and grow the economy.” Sunak will address attendees with a “commitment to optimise the conditions for businesses to thrive,” the statement said.

The guest list includes senior government ministers, investors, representatives from the tech, life sciences and advanced manufacturing industries, as well as Barclays Chief Group Executive C.S. Venkatakrishnan and Debra Crew, CEO-designate of drinks giant Diageo, Sunak’s office said.

The UK’s leading business lobby group, the Confederation of British Industry, suspended large parts of its operations last week after dozens of major companies quit the organization following allegations of rape and sexual misconduct against staff members. The CBI said it would put “all policy and membership activity” on hold until an extraordinary general meeting in June.

The government had already said it would cut ties with the lobby group while investigations continue. With its future now in doubt, Sunak is moving to reset the Conservative Party’s relations with business, which have proved difficult since the UK vote to leave the European Union in 2016. That was typified by the Brexit campaign branding the CBI the “voice of Brussels,” and the infamous use of an expletive by former premier Boris Johnson in response to business concerns about exiting the bloc.

It’s also a bid by the Conservatives to counter opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer’s efforts to woo business chiefs and City donors ahead of a general election campaign likely next year. Labour currently leads the Tories by around 16 points in opinion polls.

Another Lobby

Monday’s talks represent Sunak’s attempt to move on from the resignation of his Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab on Friday, after bullying allegations against him were upheld by an independent investigation. The fallout from the scandal dominated news coverage over the weekend, as Sunak faced criticism from the right of the Tory party for allowing Raab to quit.

“Business Connect provides the next fantastic opportunity to demonstrate how we are growing the economy,” by “bringing together some of the UK’s biggest companies and investors,” Sunak said in remarks provided by his office. The prime minister will also take questions from entrepreneurs and SMEs in a live discussion on LinkedIn on Monday morning.

Sunak’s conference is not the only new forum for business leaders in the wake of the CBI blowup. Some of the UK’s biggest banks, retailers and telecommunications companies have been invited to join another new lobby group called BizUK, created by public affairs firm WPI Strategy, Sky News’s City editor Mark Kleinman reported on Saturday.

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