Theresa May has failed to guarantee that post-Brexit deals will make up for lost trade from the European Union after the UK leaves.
The Prime Minister was repeatedly asked to say whether new deals being sought would compensate, but could only respond that she wants the UK to be “a global Britain with free trade agreements”.
Brexit Secretary David Davis was also to meet business leaders demanding the UK stay in the single market immediately after leaving the EU.
They fear losses from the UK’s rupture with the single market and the customs union of the EU, which accounts for half all British trade.
Asked if she could guarantee that post-Brexit deals being sought by Trade Secretary Liam Fox could make up for any lost activity with the EU, she said: “What I want to see is the United Kingdom as a global Britain with free trade agreements around the world.
“That’s what Liam is looking at.”
Pressed again on whether she could guarantee it, she said: “That’s what Liam is looking at in terms of his talks that we’ve already started with the Americans, talks we’re having with India and with other countries around the world.
“But I do want to see that do want to see that deep and special partnership with the EU, a comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU, so that we can continue to trade with the European Union.
“That’s not just in our interests in the interest of the other 27 member states as well.”
But business leaders are not convinced by the Government’s confidence and have called for the UK’s relations with the single market to remain effectively unchanged until a new trade deal is implemented.
Director-general of the CBI Carolyn Fairbairn was to say on Friday that now “is the time to be realistic” about the negotiations, adding: “Our proposal is for the UK to stay in the single market and a customs union until a final deal is in force.”
The CBI and others were to meet Mr Davis at the Foreign Secretary’s country residence at Chevening to press the point home.