Iain Duncan Smith has said that businesses should not involve themselves in Brexit negotiations.
His comments come after two unions have joined forces to lobby the government to show “urgency” in securing a Brexit deal.
“If you go to Europe, not a single business dares talk to their government about what will happen if the EU decides they don’t want to have a free trade deal with the United Kingdom,” said Duncan Smith.
The CBI and the TUC represent 45 million workers and 20 million employers throughout Europe, and issued a joint statement asking the government to “put economic interests” first.
'Jobs, rights and livelihoods'
"We are calling on the UK Government and the EU to inject pace and urgency in the negotiations, bringing about measurable progress, in particular a backstop arrangement to avoid a hard border in Ireland,” they said.
"Decisions will be needed in June and October to finalise the withdrawal agreement and the transitional arrangement, and put economic interests and people's jobs, rights and livelihoods first.
"The UK Government and the EU will need to agree on all aspects of regulatory alignment, which is of the utmost importance, without jeopardising the integrity of the single market."
The EU (Withdrawal) Bill became law yesterday (June 26) but the UK’s future trade arrangements with the EU are yet to be finalised.
Businesses 'lecturing' government
Speaking to Julia Hartley-Brewer on the breakfast show, Duncan Smith said businesses should not “lecture” the government, and that similar talks were not happening in Europe.
“This is a deeply unbalanced process,” he said.
“Businesses are lecturing the UK government, but if you go into Europe, Ms Merkel - as I understand it - accused one of the business leaders of being a traitor for saying they want to have some kind of business deal with the UK.
“For them, the ideology of the European Union trumps everything else and this is where the big problem exists.
“I would love businesses in Europe to talk direct to their governments but they don’t do it.”
Focus on non-EU trade
German chancellor Angela Merkel has previously been critical of Brexit and the state of negotiations but there are no reports of her specifically using the word “traitor”.
“Only 8% of all our businesses export to the EU,” continued Duncan Smith (the number of businesses that export to the EU is based on VAT records, and is an estimate).
“All the rules and regulations bear down on every other business in the UK making them far less competitive and putting them in great cost difficulty.
“They are the businesses that provide the vast majority of jobs in the UK.”
He also said the UK should concentrate on other, non-EU markets.
“The EU is a big export market for us but there are plenty of other export markets as well. The fastest growing export market for us is the US,” he said.
In 2016 the US was the UK’s second-biggest trading partner after the EU.