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PM cheered at CBI for vision beyond Brexit

Sky News logo Sky News 19/11/2018 Ian King, business presenter, at the CBI Conference

© PA Images At the 2017 CBI conference, 12 months ago, Theresa May received a chilly reception from a sullen business audience irritated by what was widely perceived as her anti-business stance.

Her comments about citizens of the world being citizens of nowhere went down especially badly with the globe-trotting battalions of big business.

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Today's speech was in stark contrast. The PM received a warm reception and was applauded both after her speech but also during the question and answer session.

The message from the room was clear - the Brexit deal she and her government has negotiated has gone down well with employers and now they just want to get on with it.

The one speaker during the question and answer session to criticise her Brexit deal, on the grounds that it would tie the economic fate of the UK to an EU that does not want the UK to be a successful competitor post-Brexit, attracted a low rumble of criticism for his trouble.

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It has been common to hear from business people today how much they respect Mrs May's resilience in the face of opposition from her own backbenchers and from some cabinet colleagues; how she is admired, even, for sticking doggedly and tenaciously to the task in hand and for not allowing herself to be blown off-course.

"Do you think she'll get the deal through parliament?" has been the most frequently-discussed subject on the conference fringes, answered invariably by the rejoinder: "Let's hope so". There were not too many people in this audience who believe "no-deal" is better than a bad deal.

While Brexit is inevitably the main focus for concern, with the audience firmly on her side, Mrs May felt confident enough to hint at the wider challenges facing the economy, such as widening the skills base, fostering more start-ups, maximising the benefits to the UK of the so-called 'Fourth Industrial Revolution' and exploiting the UK's lead in areas such as fintech.

While she still faces an almighty challenge in getting her Brexit deal through - a challenge in which business is very clearly on her side - it was just possible, today, to detect how Mrs May is starting to think about a world beyond Brexit.

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