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May will be under pressure to demonstrate she has a firm grip on Brexit plans

Premier Theresa May’s mission at her first Conservative Party conference as leader will be to demonstrate Brexit leadership whilst not letting the crunch issue dominate.

The PM is under pressure to demonstrate she has a firm grip on plans for Britain to leave the EU.

The vast bulk of Tory delegates going to the gathering in Birmingham will have voted to leave the EU and will want to hear that progress is underway.Yet Mrs May must use her annual conference to stamp her authority on her party, set the course of her government and build a winning team from the grassroots to the top.

She was denied this opportunity during the truncated leadership campaign in which she made just one major stump speech setting out her stall.

The UK media still feel bruised that they were unable to cross-examine the PM on a range of issues.

So expect Mrs May to make two speeches at party conference – a Brexit address on Sunday to get the issue “out of the way” so she can focus on a wider-ranging rallying cry on Wednesday.

The government is keen for the world’s businesses to help them in the Brexit negotiations.

Every firm is being encouraged to think through how they – and their supply chain – will be affected by the wide range of issues involved in leaving the EU.

What does leaving a customs union mean; how will you fare if there is no longer free movement of people; what does this mean for quotas, subsidies and tariffs?

Car manufacturers will have an extraordinary workload if the UK leaves the customs union. Every nut and bolt that comes into the UK from Europe will have to have certificates of origin and source. Every time the engine crosses a border.

These are the processes and structures no business has had to think about for 43 years.

Folk at the Treasury and Number 10, as well as Greg Clark’s BEIS, are keen to hear from industry about their needs, and their proposed solutions.

It’s also time for cultures to change in industry.

The corporate world is used to lobbying ministers and fighting their corner hard.

Now the tables will be turned. Officials who will conduct the negotiations will hope to work hand-in-glove with industry to secure the best deal.

Whitehall is scaling up to meet the biggest challenge in post war history.

David Davis’s EU Exit department is to double its recruits to at least 400, and hundreds more lawyers and negotiators will be hired from the corporate world.

Both he and Liam Fox, the international trade supremo, favour a “hard Brexit” which would mean the UK leaving the EU’s single market and customs union.

But at the Treasury, new Chancellor Philip Hammond is less keen.

There are inevitable tensions with big beasts of the Cabinet taking differing views on such a sensitive and important issue.

And that’s before we even explore the complexities of how each of the 27 remaining EU countries approach the negotiations.

But Mrs May has been clear with her top team.

She issued a very clear instruction to her Cabinet at Chequers, her country mansion, to work together as a team. She will not react kindly to in-fighting, counter-briefing and game-playing.

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