For a long time, business was a constituency that the Conservatives didn’t have to worry about. They were the party of business, set against the party of labour, widely trusted to pursue lower taxes, less regulation and higher growth.
Brexit has complicated matters. Although opinion among business leaders is mixed at the SME level, many of the UK’s larger employers have expressed anxiety that leaving the EU could be chaotic and painful.
With an election looming, we put some of these concerns to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, Andrea Leadsom.
Management Today is championing British business. Give us five reasons why we should still be championing British business after Brexit
I agree wholeheartedly with Management Today in championing UK business, particularly at a time when many seem to have forgotten the fantastic strengths we have, as the world’s fifth biggest economy.
We have the most creative financial services sector anywhere, we speak the international business language, and three of the world’s top 10 universities are here, yet some can only picture doom and gloom. I think we need far more self-belief in our abilities as a country. We can build the low carbon, hi-tech, business-backing United Kingdom we all want to see.
From our universities to our creative industries, from offshore wind to outer space, Britain is leading the way globally. Brexit represents a fantastic opportunity to build on these successes to do even more, even better. So here are my five reasons:
1. International talent: UK business benefits from a talented pool of highly skilled international workers. Brexit will allow us not only to support the talent that we have here, but also to attract the best minds from around the world. For example, in September we announced a fast-track visa route for scientists, ensuring the UK remains a global science superpower. We have also launched a two year post-study work visa so that overseas university students can stay and apply what they’ve learned in the UK.
2. Clean energy: As the first major economy to legislate to end our contribution to global climate change, we are perfectly positioned to seize the opportunities of the global shift to cleaner technology, with annual exports from our green economy to be worth up to £170bn by 2030.
3. New trade deals: We will reform regulation of emerging technologies and pursue free trade opportunities with the North American and Asia-Pacific economies to develop renewable energy, clean growth and electric vehicles, and to boost foreign direct investment. This will give British companies the freedom to explore new markets and secure investment from every corner of the globe.
4. Investment in our economy: We will replace EU funding programmes with domestic ones that are more focused on UK priorities, ensuring Britain’s businesses and regions have the support they need to thrive and expand productivity after Brexit.
5. The labour market: I am determined to see the highest standards for workers’ rights after we leave the EU. In the Queen’s Speech, the government pledged to take steps to make work fairer, including delivering on the commitments set out in our Good Work Plan. This will increase fairness and flexibility in the labour market by strengthening workers’ ability to get redress for poor treatment and increase transparency and clarity for staff and employers, taking account of modern working relationships and routines.
The industrial strategy focuses on stimulating world-leading ecosystems in certain key sectors, relying on the UK's depths of talent, investment and research. Are there any conceivable ways that leaving the EU - with a deal or without - could make this more difficult?
In this country, we generate extraordinary talent, investment and research and leaving the European Union doesn’t change that. My department is committed to nurturing those things regardless of Brexit, and I believe it is highly successful in this role.
We are investing £88m to close the productivity gap - powering next generation supercomputers and kickstarting the UK’s largest and most ambitious productivity institute, to turbocharge productivity and boost Britain’s businesses’ competitiveness in the global market.
Last year we received about £1.5tn in foreign direct investment, the most in Europe, and we’ve committed to raising R&D spending to at least 2.4 per cent of GDP by 2027, so we can continue our world-leading research into the technologies of tomorrow – things like AI and robotics, carbon capture usage and storage, electric vehicles and new generation batteries.
For example, our centre for excellence in battery manufacturing technology will open next year. This is backed by up to £1bn of government money to support the development of the next generation of automotive technologies, boost UK supply chains and help us reach our target of net zero emissions by 2050.
So whatever the nature of our departure from the European Union, our strengths as a nation are plain to see. We’re going to keep working with our international friends in Europe and around the world to build on those strengths in the years ahead.
Liberation from red tape is frequently cited as a reason to have wholly independent laws and regulatory systems outside of the European framework. What red tape would you cut?
We will not cut red tape just for the sake of it. On workers’ rights, for example, the UK has a long, proud tradition of leading the way and setting high standards. We already go further than the EU legal minimum in a number of respects and have absolutely no intention of lowering the high standards we have set.
We recognise that regulatory alignment is desirable for certain sectors of our economy; however, where there are areas of regulation that can be improved, or where greater flexibility is needed, we are ready to ease regulations to lighten pressure on businesses and cut prices for customers. We will cut red tape to drive up productivity and create jobs, growth and opportunity in all corners of the Union.
But I want this to be led by businesses themselves. My colleague the Chancellor recently announced that we would be launching a Brexit Red Tape Challenge, which will give businesses an opportunity to identify EU regulation that the government can either improve or remove. I look forward to seeing what the business community has to say.
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