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PM must set out clear Brexit aims urgently, business leaders say

File photo dated 20/04/17 of the London skyline, as the official triggering of Article 50 failed to spook the City jobs market, which saw a double digit rise in financial sector vacancies last month. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Thursday April 20, 2017. See PA story CITY Jobs. Photo credit should read: Chris Radburn/PA Wire

Businesses' patience with the Cabinet's "continued division" on Brexit is "wearing thin" and Theresa May must urgently deliver a clear statement of UK Government wants, the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) has said.

As ministers in the Prime Minister's Brexit "war cabinet" prepared to meet to discuss what they want from the future relationship with the EU, the business lobby intervened to demand "clear negotiating objectives".

The UK Government has faced calls from the EU for clarity and criticism at home for failing to spell out what it wants 18 months on from the referendum vote to Leave.

In a letter to Mrs May, the BCC warned that companies were beginning to activate Brexit contingency plans, which will be seen as a coded warning that jobs could leave the UK.

They said the organisation had refrained from entering the debate in recent weeks but had "emphasised the need for answers".

BCC director general Adam Marshall and president Francis Martin went on: "Our aim has always been to maximise, not constrain, the Government's chances of success as ministers and the civil service work to secure the best possible deal for the UK.

"Yet businesses need those elected to govern our country to make choices - and to deliver a clear, unequivocal statement of intent.

"The perception amongst businesses on the ground, large and small alike, is one of continued division. Even amongst the many optimistic, future-oriented firms - those who see opportunity in change - patience is wearing thin. Directly-affected companies are poised to activate contingency plans. Many others, worryingly, have simply disengaged.

"Clear UK negotiating objectives are crucial to both business and public confidence.

"While the BCC has campaigned strongly in favour of a status-quo transition period, to give businesses time to plan for change, this transition must lead to a clear endpoint.

"There is no room for continued ambiguity as companies make investment and hiring decisions. The Government must set out its plans."

A UK Government spokesman said: "The Prime Minister has set out a clear ambition for a deep and special partnership with the European Union and we are confident of securing an implementation period that will provide businesses with certainty."