Former Boots boss Richard Baker has been appointed chairman of the British Retail Consortium (BRC), to replace Sir Charlie Mayfield.

Baker, who is currently chairman of DFS and leisure group Whitbread, will take up the role on September 1. Mayfield, John Lewis Group’s chairman, will step down after two years in the job.

Baker, who is also a former chief operating officer at Asda, said BRC’s role is “more vital than ever before” due to the “seismic” events of Brexit and its fallout.

He told Retail Week: “We have an enormous role to play in making sure the views of a very large part of British business [retail] is clearly heard by government so the right decisions are taken.

“I’m sure the new government ministers will want to reach out and discuss our views on … the disentanglement from Europe and also the new arrangements with the rest of the world.”

Baker said the BRC will be arguing for free trade across Europe. “We don’t want to see increased friction in our trade with European partners,” he said.

“We [retail] represent a huge amount of turnover, GDP and jobs. We are a fundamental part of British business.”

Baker also gave his backing to the new Prime Minister. “Theresa May strikes me as a pretty sensible person. I’m quite pleased with the choice,” he said.

Business rates remains a key issue that concerns retailers and Baker vowed to keep up the fight. “We’ve very keen to see continued progress on keeping business rate increases under control and ideally eliminating increases all together,” he said.

Meanwhile, Baker revealed he is a “fan” of the national living wage. “The notion that millions of people are in jobs but still have to have their pay topped up by tax credits doesn’t make a lot of sense to me,” he said.

BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said: “Richard’s CV speaks for itself. His wealth and breadth of experience will be critical as we take the BRC forward through a period of profound political and economic change.”

The BRC warned in January that around 1 million retail jobs could be lost in the next decade as high streets struggle with the impact of digital and spiralling costs.