Theresa May has opened the doors of Downing Street to big business with five new advisory councils which will guide the prime minister on “post-Brexit opportunities”.

Executives from firms including BT, drugs giant GSK and defence companies BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce will form groups to help shape policy after the UK leaves the EU.

Tesco boss Dave Lewis, ITV boss Carolyn McCall and CBI head Carolyn Fairbairn are also among the big names in the new forums which will each meet the prime minister twice a year and a senior member of the cabinet once a year.

Councils will provide “high-level advice and policy recommendations on the critical issues affecting business”, Number 10 said. 

Co-chaired by two business leaders, each council will have around 10 members representing core sectors of the UK economy, as well as a representative from the UK’s key business groups.

The co-chairs are due to meet for the first time in Downing Street on Wednesday to put together an agenda.

BAE Systems chairman Sir Roger Carr, who will lead the industrial, infrastructure and manufacturing council, said: “We are a vital part of the wealth-creating machinery of the country where improved training, productivity and exporting will be the cornerstones of our global success. 

“Engaging with the prime minister to tackle these issues in a focused and practical manner is a welcome and important step forward in achieving our collective growth ambitions.”

Ms May said Brexit presents a “huge opportunity to build a better, stronger economy for people all over the country”.

“So I’ve asked these new councils to advise us on the opportunities and challenges facing business as we shape the UK for the future.”

The announcement comes as business’s concerns grow that the UK may crash out of the EU without a deal, an outcome that threatens the future of some key industries.

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A group of 70 business leaders signed a letter to The Sunday Times this week calling for a people’s vote on the final Brexit deal. More than 1 million people have so far signed a petition backing The Independent’s Final Say campaign.

But granting companies regular access to the prime minister will raise questions over how much influence big firms have over post-Brexit policy 

Britain’s EU departure presents an unprecedented opportunity for companies, with a swathe of regulation set to be rewritten and new trade deals to be signed.

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