British companies must have voices heard on Brexit, says MP

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Rachel Reeves, the chair of the House of Commons business select committee, says she will use her powerful new role to ensure Britain’s companies can make their voices heard on Brexit.

The Labour MP for Leeds West, and former Bank of England economist, beat three of her colleagues, including Liam Byrne, to the job on Wednesday, in an election among MPs from all parties.

Reeves said she would follow in the footsteps of her predecessor, Iain Wright, by holding rogue firms to account – but also explore the risks of Brexit for businesses.

“In some ways we will be the friend of business on Brexit, and ensure that their voice is heard. It’s about holding the government to account, but also trying to get it right in terms of our future relationship, for business, investment and jobs,” she said.

Reeves was speaking after the low-cost airline Easyjet announced that it would set up an alternative EU headquarters in Austria, in the latest sign that companies are delaying investment or choosing to go elsewhere while the post-Brexit landscape looks so unclear.

“It’s a mixture of both uncertainty, and where we might end up; and also the real risk that at the end of it we don’t have the same trading relationship,” she said.

Reeves added that the new committee – whose other members yet to be chosen – would be likely to hold an investigation into Britain’s future relationship with Euratom, the EU-linked body that governs, among other things, the safe transport of nuclear materials.

“Euratom is the first example of an area where there are real concerns, both about the uncertainty that exists at the moment and about where we’re going to end up. That’s something that I want to do.”

There have been a series of warnings in recent days, including from the president of the Royal College of Radiologists, that leaving Euratom could affect the transport of radioactive isotopes used in cancer treatment.

Theresa May’s de facto deputy, Damian Green, standing in for her at prime minister’s questions on Wednesday, dismissed the fears as “scaremongering”, and ministers have since signalled they will try to negotiate a form of “associate membership” of the body.

The government believes it would have been impossible to leave the EU and remain inside Euratom. But Brexit secretary David Davis’s former chief of staff, James Chapman, suggested the decision was driven by May’s “absolutist” position on escaping the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, which oversees some aspects of the agreement.

Backbench MPs are expected to be unusually powerful in this parliament, after the government’s majority was wiped out by the 8 June election, and the new crop of select committee chairs are expected to provide a robust challenge to the prime minister.

Nicky Morgan, the Conservative former education secretary who is the new chair of the treasury select committee, has been a vocal critic of May’s approach to Brexit.

She said on Friday she would like to broaden the scope of the role, telling the BBC she wants to look “at the wider Treasury remit”.

“We want to look at the management of the economy, public spending decisions. We’ve got a budget coming up, with issues like household debt, tax policy, investment in infrastructure.

“These are all the things that actually our constituents put us in the House of Commons for, the things that make a difference to household budgets and to their economic security,” she said.

May has already been forced to make a series of concessions to accede to backbenchers’ demands, little more than a month after the election.

The government pledged that the NHS would fund abortions for women from Northern Ireland, after Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy won cross-party backing for an amendment to the Queen’s Speech.

And the announcement of an independent inquiry into contaminated blood products came after another Labour MP, Diana Johnson, had been granted an emergency debate on the issue by the Speaker, John Bercow.

Reeves said as well as Brexit, she would like to follow up the Taylor review into 21st century work, published earlier this week, and ensure it doesn’t get forgotten by the government.

“The government are not sure how to respond, so it’s important that the committee hear from the likes of Uber and Deliveroo, and from workers, from trades unions and from business,” she said.

“Parliament’s going to be clogged up with other things, and also the government’s going to struggle to get anything through. The easiest thing is to do nothing – but that’s not always the right thing.”