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UK's May seeks to ease Brexit fears at new business council

Britain's Prime Minister, Theresa May, waits on the doorstep of no 10 to greet the Prime Minister of Estonia, in Downing Street, central London, Britain July 18, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville

LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister Theresa May will chair a discussion on Brexit and the economy at the first meeting of a new business council on Thursday, a bid to rebuild bridges with companies concerned over Britain’s departure from the European Union.

After losing the governing Conservatives’ parliamentary majority at an ill-judged election last month, May has stepped up efforts to engage with business after some firms criticized her government for failing to address their worries over Brexit.

Many companies have urged the government to push the European Union to agree a clear and lengthy transitional arrangement after Britain leaves the bloc in 2019 to help them make investment decisions.

The meeting marks a shift for May, whose former aides had wanted to break what they felt was an overly cosy relationship between big business and government before her authority was weakened at the June election.

“Theresa May will tomorrow chair the first meeting of a new business council, which will provide a direct link to business on the government’s Brexit strategy, as well as looking at wider issues such as the development of a modern industrial strategy and steps to boost the nation’s economy,” May’s spokesman said.

The council would meet regularly and its cast list would change on a “rolling basis to ensure broad representation across different sectors and industries over time,” the spokesman added.

Alongside the new business council, there will be regular meetings with Britain’s five main trade organizations chaired by finance minister Philip Hammond, business minister Greg Clark and Brexit minister David Davis to focus on Brexit.

On Thursday, May will meet Terry Scuoler from manufacturing lobby group EEF, Stephen Martin from the Institute of Directors, Carolyn Fairbairn from the Confederation of British Industry, Mike Cherry from the Federation of Small Businesses and Francis Martin from the British Chambers of Commerce.

Ralf Speth from Jaguar Land Rover, John Pettigrew from the National Grid, Paul Manduca from M&G Investments, Luke Johnson from Risk Capital, Kathryn Parsons from Decoded, Dave Lewis from Tesco, Roger Carr from BAE Systems and Vivian Hunt from McKinsey would also take part, the spokesman said.

Reporting by Elizabeth Piper; Editing by Kylie MacLellan and Andrew Heavens