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

August 2017

Brexit negotiators in London and Brussels are far more exposed to business interests than the concerns of civil society. Official statistics, analysed by Corporate Europe Observatory and Global Justice Now, reveal that Brexit ministers in the UK had six corporate lobby meetings for every one with civil society groups. For the EU’s Brexit taskforce, headed by the Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier, the figure is three corporate lobby meetings for every one civil society group meeting. Big Finance and agriculture interests dominated the lobby meetings held in both London and Brussels.

Civil society groups have had far less access and opportunity to put forward their needs, concerns, and proposals. Small and medium sized businesses are also largely left out. Conservative Central Office donors, and corporations with revolving door links to senior party figures, are on the list of those holding lobby meetings with the Department for Exiting the EU (DExEU), including with Secretary of State David Davis.

The UK government’s inadequate approach to transparency on lobby meetings means that these figures for corporate bias may represent only the tip of the iceberg. Meanwhile, the agendas, minutes and papers for all lobby meetings held by both UK and EU negotiators are secret. This is highly problematic as it means it’s not known exactly who is in the room and what is being said.

Brexit is far more than  a technocratic exercise to change a handful of UK laws. It will have a massive impact on the future of the UK, in terms of jobs, trade, energy, agriculture, social and environmental policy, and many other areas. For the EU, the UK’s exit will also mean a major readjustment. Yet the level of public consultation on these issues has been non-existent since the June 2016 referendum. Instead, policy and negotiating positions are being decided behind closed doors, with corporate lobbyists providing the majority of external input, and the public almost entirely excluded.

The risk that the corporate capture of this process will lead to a ‘Big Business Brexit’ is high. And the current flawed approach will not be resolved by negotiators meeting with a few more NGOs. It is imperative that decision-makers in both London and Brussels are transparent about exactly who they are meeting and what they are discussing.  They must also commit to fully opening up the debate to other voices to ensure that the post-Brexit future of both the UK and the remaining EU27 countries is a socially just and environmentally sustainable one.  

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