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East Anglia Future 50

Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt? East Anglia's business leaders decide

PUBLISHED: 18:17 25 June 2019 | UPDATED: 18:18 25 June 2019

Norfolk and Suffolk's bosses give their verdict on the Tory candidates

Norfolk and Suffolk's bosses give their verdict on the Tory candidates

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In a matter of just weeks Britain will have a new prime minister. Here East Anglia's business leaders give their views on who would be best for the region - Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt?

East Anglian bosses are torn over whether Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt would be the best PM for businessEast Anglian bosses are torn over whether Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt would be the best PM for business

The Conservatives Party is at war.

They are fighting in public for who should be the next prime minister and fighting behind closed doors for the heart of the party.

The question of Europe hangs just as heavy for the Tories today as it has for the past 50 years. Already leaving the European Union has seen the end of two Tory PMs (David Cameron and now Theresa May) and who is to say whether Brexit might still claim another scalp?

What the vast majority of business leaders in East Anglia yearn for is clarity. That has not changed since the 2016 referendum. And yet confusion reigns now as much as it ever has.

Conservative party leadership candidate Boris Johnson has proved a divisive figure for the East's business leadersConservative party leadership candidate Boris Johnson has proved a divisive figure for the East's business leaders

So do any East Anglian bosses actually think who is in Number 10 will make a difference?

Erika Clegg, co-founder of Spring a communications agency based in Southwold, believes Mr Johnson might be the only man who can break the Brexit impasse.

"My view is that Mr Johnson is, unfortunately, the man to get us out of the pickle we've got ourselves into and without that happening we are stuck in the quagmire that has now engulfed us for three years.

"For one thing, Europe is not giving an inch, and for another, even if there were a second referendum in which the vote went the other way, the genie is now very definitely out of the bottle.

"I do not see him as a long-term option and hope very much that a credible leader with wisdom and integrity emerges in the very near future."

Kit Papworth, who runs a major farm contracting business based at Felmingham in north Norfolk, wholeheartedly disagrees.

"I was always a remainer but I accept the country's decision and I want the softest Brexit possible so anyone who is prepared to stand up and say they are prepared to leave without a deal makes me nervous," he said.

"Boris Johnson seems to wish to leave under any circumstances and I am not keen on that so Jeremy Hunt is the man who is going to solve that problem for me.

"No deal would be a disaster for farming. The tariffs on trade to Europe will be so punitive until we are able to renegotiate a trade deal that many parts of our industry including grain, beef and lamb will suffer. Trade will drop away and our market will be a disaster."

Matt Legon, managing director of Norwich-based Gnaw Chocolate, also believes Mr Johnson would be a disaster for the region.

He said; "I believe that Johnson doesn't understand the problems that SME's have on a daily basis and which will only get worse if we crash out of the EU without a deal. He doesn't have a great track record of delivering on his promises and I think that he is a candidate for the wealthy, not for the average conservative."

But Leave supporter Stephen Britt, managing director of Anchor Storage near Debenham, is more confident. He is a Conservative member who will be voting in the leadership election - and is leaning towards Boris Johnson.

"My gut feeling is Jeremy Hunt is Theresa May in trousers. We are going to get the same as we had from her. Being a businessman who takes risks - sometimes quite high risks - I'm more inclined to go for Boris Johnson and hang on for the ride - it's going to be fun whatever happens. It's not a very technical way to look at it though. Boris Johnson is offering something slightly different and Jeremy Hunt is offering the same."

George Gittus, who farms at Symonds Farm, Risby, Bury St Edmunds, and runs a business park in the town, said he was ambivalent about who should be next Conservative leader. A strong remain supporter, he sees no deal as a deeply damaging option for his sector.

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"I am worried, but we are going to have to deal with what we get. Hunt seems to be measured ... It's who can pull the rabbit out of the hat.

"If we go out with a no deal for agriculture, we are going to be severely penalised. It upsets the whole applecart.

"Now people are tired and see it going on for potentially another two years plus. That reality has turned to the extent that people are putting off decisions."

Juliana Meyer, CEO and founder of tech firm SupaPass, which has offices in Norwich and London, is concerned her sector could face a tough few years: "We are at risk of losing our competitive edge globally unless government returns focus to neglected issues ... providing stability in the economy to protect jobs and enabling innovation and entrepreneurship in companies like SupaPass to thrive."

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