Boris Johnson picks ex-think tank chief to lead business liaison

May 27, 2020

A former adviser to David Cameron and proponent of EU reform is to become Boris Johnson's key business liaison figure as Britain's economy wrestles with the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Sky News has learnt that Alex Hickman, who has been a Downing Street adviser since March, will become head of the prime minister's business team in July.

Mr Hickman's at No 10 appointment follows a career in which he has consistently opposed closer integration between the UK and European Union.

His arrival as special adviser to the PM on business, appointments and honours comes at a critical time for Mr Johnson's administration.

Downing Street has been working on an overhaul of its engagement with the private sector since December's general election, with the PM deciding to abandon the network of business councils briefly adopted by his predecessor, Theresa May.

That rethink has been given added impetus by the COVID-19 pandemic, with business chiefs keen for Mr Johnson to establish a formal framework for future engagement with the government.

At the same time, business groups which have had an uneasy relationship with Mr Johnson and Dominic Cummings, his under-fire special adviser, have been at pains to comment positively on the scale of the government's response to the current economic crisis.

In particular, people close to the CBI, the UK's biggest employers' group, say relations have improved considerably since the crisis began.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has overseen the introduction of an unprecedented array of support schemes to try to smooth the flow of credit to struggling businesses, and pay the salaries of millions of workers.

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With Britain on the brink of what some economists believe could be a deep recession, however, attention has turned to Mr Johnson's plans to aid the private sector recovery.

It is unclear whether the new business chief at No 10 will consider establishing a new business council.

Mr Hickman's appointment as the PM's business liaison chief was confirmed by a Downing Street spokeswoman on Wednesday.

It brings into Mr Johnson's team another of the senior figures who campaigned for Brexit ahead of the 2016 referendum.

Mr Hickman effectively replaces Andrew Griffith, who was installed last summer as the PM's chief business adviser but stepped down after winning a safe Tory seat at December's election.

Since then, Katie Lam, another official, has been overseeing the business liaison brief on an interim basis.

He was chief executive of Business for Sterling, the organisation which lobbied against Britain joining the Euro, before co-founding the thinktank Open Europe.

A stint as Mr Cameron's foreign policy adviser focusing on UK policy towards the EU and India followed.

Mr Hickman then set up Chartwell Partners, a speaker bureau, before leaving in 2016 to spearhead a number of Brexit-related initiatives, including Prosperity UK.

He stepped down as a non-executive director of Northbank Talent Management shortly before he joined No 10''s team of SPADs, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Mr Hickman could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

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