Brexit a ‘historic oppportunity,’ PM tells business lobby

Theresa May speaking at the CBI annual conference

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Speaking at the Confederation of British Industry, May said the June referendum has created uncertainty for business but also opportunities. She said she will not “rush ahead without doing the groundwork” and wouldn’t provide “a running commentary on every twist and turn”.

But she acknowledged that businesses “need some clarity” and vowed to set out plans where possible.

May said: “[The right approach] is not to seek to replicate the deal that any other country has, but to craft a new arrangement that’s right for us and right for Europe – recognising that a strong EU is good for Britain.”

May said that Chancellor Philip Hammond will use this week’s Autumn Statement to lay out an agenda for Britain’s future:

• He will continue to bring down the deficit “so that we can live within our means once again”.

• He will build on the actions that the Bank of England has taken to support the economy.

• He will set out plans to invest in infrastructure “so that we can get the country – and business – moving”.

• He will show “how we will do everything possible to make the UK outside the EU the most attractive place for businesses to grow and invest”.

May said: “It is about making the most of the historic opportunity we now have to signal an important, determined change.”

She reiterated plans to reform corporate governance by addressing executive pay and ensuring that workers’ voices are heard in the boardroom.

In addition, she said, the government will increase spending on research and development worth £2 billion per year by 2020 “to help put post-Brexit Britain at the cutting edge of science and tech”.

The Prime Minister’s speech follows a survey by the CBI, which found that British companies are planning to boost spending on innovation to gain a competitive edge following the Brexit vote.

The survey of more than 800 businesses, supported by Deloitte and Hays, shows that more than seven in 10 businesses are planning to increase or maintain investment, while just 7% are planning to cut spending.

Carolyn Fairbairn, the CBI’s director general, said: “As we prepare to depart the EU, this shows that firms are rolling up their sleeves and looking to make the best of Brexit. While the UK has many innovation strengths to build on, businesses are worried that the country is too much of a follower in the global economy, with the lack of access to technical skills a grave concern for ambitious firms.”

Fairbairn said the CBI’s latest survey is ‘encouraging’ but more investment is needed to ensure the UK can compete on a global level.

• This article also appeared on WSJ City, a made-for-mobile app that combines the best of the Wall Street Journal and Financial News, tailored for an audience in the City of London. Download here

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