Big business dominates lobby meetings with UK and EU Brexit negotiators

Friday, 25 August, 2017
  • New research reveals  how corporate interests are dominating  meetings held by the UK’s Department for Exiting the EU as well as those organised by the EU Brexit Task Force.
  • UK and EU negotiators accused of side-lining concerns of civil society and small businesses in Brexit negotiations by granting massively privileged access to corporate lobbyists.

New analysis released by Corporate Europe Observatory and Global Justice Now exposes the extent to which official lobby meetings about Brexit in both London and Brussels are being dominated by corporate interests at the expense of civil society, trade unions and small businesses.

The Brexit agreement that will govern the UK’s exit from the European Union and have far reaching consequences for everyone in the UK is not only being shaped at the negotiating table, but also by the lobbyists who are trying to influence each side’s position papers and red lines.

An analysis of official statistics on lobby meetings with ministers from the UK’s Department for Exiting the EU (DexEU) and members of the EU’s Brexit Task Force reveals a common willingness to privilege the representatives of corporate interests above all others. The analysis shows:

  • Between October 2016 and March 2017, DExEU staff had six meetings with big business representatives for every one meeting with an NGO, a trade union or a think tank. This figure may even just be the tip of the iceberg, as Brexit lobby meetings are also likely to take place with DExEU officials not required to disclose meetings.
  • The team of Chief EU Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier had ten meetings with corporate lobbyists for every one NGO they met between October 2016 and May 2017.

The full list of meetings highlights just how rarely citizens and smaller businesses have been heard by the negotiators, despite the fact that the Brexit deal will directly affect the everyday lives of all UK residents and the country’s many small and medium-sized businesses.

The research also highlights that both the UK and EU negotiators withhold participant lists, agendas, minutes and all other documents from their lobby meetings, making it impossible to know who exactly is in the room or which specific policy options are discussed.

Corporate Europe Observatory’s transparency campaigner Vicky Cann said:

“Brexit will strongly affect people’s private and professional lives in the UK, so it is vital that the process is as transparent as possible and that many different interests are consulted.

“But we observe a strong corporate bias in the lobby meetings of both the UK and the EU Brexit negotiators. Civil society groups and SMEs have had far fewer opportunities to voice their needs, concerns, and proposals around Brexit.”

Jean Blaylock, a campaigner at Global Justice Now, added:

“The corporate bias that has been exposed in this list of meetings shows that we are veering dangerously towards a ‘big business Brexit’ rather than a Brexit that might take into account the wider needs of UK society. Unless there is some sense of transparency and accountability in this process, there is every chance that the UK government will use Brexit as an opportunity to do away will all manner of vital protections relating to labour rights, consumer standards and the environment.”

Download the briefing: Big Business Britain - How corporate lobbyists dominate secret meetings with Brexit negotiators in London and Brussels

Download the list of DExEU lobby meetings

Notes to editors:

  • The DexEU list of lobby meetings includes several actors who have previously made financial contributions to the UK Conservative Party’s head office, as well as corporations with revolving door links to senior party figures. 
  • The corporate bias in the lobby meetings of DexEU mirrors the pattern of lobbying seen at the UK Department for International Trade. The ministers developing the UK’s post-Brexit trade relationships with the rest of the world have been holding 90 per cent of their lobby meetings with representatives of business interests, previous research showed.
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