PM Theresa May's office plays down pre-Brexit referendum remarks to Goldman Sachs

Theresa May, UK prime minister, speaks during a news conference at a meeting of European Union (EU) leaders in Brussels, Belgium on Oct 21, 2016.
Theresa May, UK prime minister, speaks during a news conference at a meeting of European Union (EU) leaders in Brussels, Belgium on Oct 21, 2016. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

LONDON (REUTERS) - British Prime Minister Theresa May's office played down the significance of comments she made before the referendum warning that companies would leave Britain if the country backed Brexit, after the Guardian newspaper published a recording of a private meeting she held with Goldman Sachs.

"These were views that the Prime Minister expressed during the campaign publicly," Mrs May's spokesman said on Wednesday (Oct 26).

At the time, she was interior minister and campaigning, albeit quietly, for Britain to remain in the European Union.

The remarks have been used by rival political parties to try to undermine her authority on what type of deal she is seeking with the EU.

They accused her of ignoring her private concerns about the economic consequences of Britain's exit whilst publicly pushing for a so-called "Hard Brexit" to appease Eurosceptics in her own party.

"I think if we were not in Europe, there would be firms and companies who would be looking to say, do they need to develop a mainland presence in Europe rather than the UK," Mrs May said in the recording obtained by the Guardian.

She had expressed similar views in public speeches in the run-up to the referendum as well, but since the result and her election, she has said she would put the Brexit vote into action despite her prior support for remaining.

Asked whether Mrs May stands by those views, the spokeswoman said: "The point now is that the British people have voted to leave the European Union and the Prime Minister is focused on how we make that work in the best interests of Britain."