BUSINESSES in the North-East are potentially being damaged by the “poor progress” on Brexit negotiations, a key business leader has told the Prime Minister.

James Ramsbotham, chief executive of the North-East England Chamber of Commerce, has called on Theresa May to show leadership and support the region’s businesses, in a stinging letter ahead of the European Council meeting today.

In a letter to 10 Downing Street, he said: “While we have accepted the referendum result, our members are exasperated at the lack of tangible progress towards a positive deal, which is clearly hindering business planning. While our regional economy currently remains robust, we regularly hear about lower investor confidence, projects being delayed and skilled workers leaving for other countries due to uncertainty over our future business landscape. This is being compounded by a lack of clarity from Government over its own preferred approach to Brexit.

“At the heart of this lies woefully underwhelming levels of engagement and consultation by Government with local businesses. There are perfectly valid fears among our exporters that the Government’s stance on the Customs Union and Single Market will only serve to harm our ability to trade with our biggest export market.”

The region’s exports economy is strong, with 62 per cent of goods destined for the EU, but this means it is vulnerable to a poorly-managed Brexit process. Mr Ramsbotham said the Government had failed to address the legitimate concerns of the region’s businesses.

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen, a Conservative, said the EU was a “declining protectionist trade bloc” and said that as an exporting region businesses needed trade deals with emerging economies beyond the shores of Europe, if the economy was going to grow.

He added: “We will not accept a partial Brexit, half-Brexit, or soft Brexit, which will leave us subject to the undemocratic whims of the Brussels establishment.

“I’m disappointed by the NEECC’s approach. Instead of talking about what they think should happen they should get off the fence and back me and my plan for a Free Port.

“I am confident that the opportunities of Brexit and the business support the Government will provide will ultimately increase prosperity on Teesside.”

Simon Clarke, Conservative MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, added: “Brexit is probably the most important moment in post-war British life and it is vital that the Government gets this right. That is why I have been liaising closely with ministers, many of whom have visited Teesside in recent months to speak to local businesses – the Prime Minister and the Brexit Secretary included.”