LONDON (Reuters) – Embattled prime minister Theresa May’s Brexit sales pitch won plaudits from the British business community on Monday, but executives said the political drama surrounding her survival was proving a damaging distraction.
Speaking at the Confederation of British Industry’s annual conference in London, May vowed to stick to her draft European Union divorce deal as dissenting lawmakers in her own party tried to trigger a leadership challenge.
“I thought she was very good. I must admit I have been blinded by everything that has come out over the last few days and I felt actually she explained it from a high level that made sense,” said Steven Cochran, Head of Products at Allied Irish Bank UK.
May used her speech to send a message to her critics who have spent days plotting her downfall since the draft deal was agreed with Brussels: “Let no one be in any doubt – I am determined to deliver it.”
That steadfast message resonated with delegates, triggering extended applause.
“There’s a huge amount of personal recognition for what she’s managed to achieve, what’s she’s been through and the fact she’s still upbeat – that always gets respect from business people,” said Adam Green, Chief Risk Officer at Equiniti, a financial services firm.
One attendee was booed when he criticised May’s approach in a question to her after the speech.
Eurosceptics in May’s Conservative Party have been submitting letters calling for a vote of no confidence in their leader, saying the exit deal she has tentatively agreed leaves Britain tied to the EU indefinitely and betrays a 2016 referendum vote to quit the bloc.
Several attendees interviewed by Reuters said they were following the political drama from news bulletin to news bulletin because it had a material impact on their own business or their clients.
But with that came a warning for Britain’s political classes to stop the infighting and focus on the bigger picture.
“A lot of the airtime is being devoted to something which isn’t about the problem – it’s about people fighting about the problem, which is a different point entirely,” Green said.
Reporting by William James; Editing by Kevin Liffey