Boris Johnson gives bosses the sunlit uplands treatment

LONDON — Boris Johnson told business leaders he wanted to put Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic behind Britain.

In a call with 245 firms and business groups, the U.K. prime minister sounded an optimistic note for British prospects, while Chancellor Rishi Sunak spelled out five reasons he has high hopes for 2021 despite the COVID gloom.

But bosses worried about the impact of the pandemic on their firms were left frustrated at what was an information broadcast rather than a discussion. One boss of a big business group said the call was “pointless.”

Three people with knowledge of the call told POLITICO the core message from the prime minister was about getting the coronavirus and Brexit off the agenda now that the U.K. and EU have struck a deal and Britain is beginning its vaccination rollout.

He said the government wanted to look ahead to “building back better” and the environmental agenda, among other things, and quipped that the U.K. could be the “Saudi Arabia of wind power.”

He added that the more people meet by video and telephone calls, the more they want to meet in person.

Sunak said his reasons to be hopeful included consumers having saved cash during the pandemic that can be spent to kick-start the economy; the employment picture looking better than feared; strong corporate borrowing; the experience of the short lockdown lift in the summer showing the economy can bounce back; and the clinching of a Brexit deal to reduce uncertainty.

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