Theresa May leads UK trade delegation to Africa as Brexit disputes rage

Theresa may

Prime Minister Theresa May has flown to Africa to lead a delegation of business figures as she seeks to boost trade relations, despite intense criticism of her Brexit plans at home.

May will use a speech tomorrow in South Africa’s Cape Town to focus on bringing British private sector trade and investment to Africa.

The continent is “right on the cusp of playing a transformative role in the global economy”, she said before her departure, as she tried to gather momentum behind her plan for Brexit, agreed at the Chequers country residence.

However, the government faces a battle to win the support of its own Conservative party, with former foreign secretary Boris Johnson firing another shot at the Prime Minister over the weekend.

Johnson said the party should “chuck Chequers”. Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, he said the UK would be a “rules-taker” under the Chequers plan. Johnson quit the Cabinet in July, following former Brexit secretary David Davis’s resignation in protest at the plan.

The Chequers plan would be a “historic mistake”, he added, suggesting the UK would face similar consequences to the stricken Greek economy, a Eurozone member which was forced to adopt harsh austerity measures by other Eurozone states.

May has shown little sign of any backdown on the Chequers position in spite of the protests of Johnson, Davis and other Tory politicians. She will be joined by senior finance and business figures on this week’s African trip, with stops in Nigeria and Kenya as well as South Africa. May will be the first British Prime Minister to visit Sub-Saharan Africa since 2013 as well as being the first to go to Kenya for over 30 years.

Standard Chartered boss Bill Winters, London Stock Exchange chief executive David Schwimmer and lord mayor of London Charles Bowman will accompany May, alongside representative from industrial equipment manufacturer JCB, farming tech firms and the Scotch Whisky Association.

However, the trip risks being overshadowed by Brexit controversies as MPs return to Westminster amid a push by the People’s Vote campaign for a second EU referendum. The campaign faced a setback yesterday when Labour’s Greater Manchester mayor, Andy Burnham, said he would not back a referendum on the final Brexit deal.

He told Politico: “My frustration with those leaping to a second referendum is it further inflames this idea of an arrogant political class, which isn’t listening and isn’t dealing with the issues that gave rise to the referendum in the first place.”

Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron said that he wants “a strong, special relationship with London but not if the cost is the European Union’s unravelling,” at a gathering of ambassadors, according to Reuters.

Brexit, Macron said, “is a sovereign choice, which we must respect, but it can’t come at the expense of the European Union’s integrity”.