CBI calls for an end to Brexit gridlock

No party currently has the answer to Brexit, but the gridlock in Parliament needs to end. That was the message from John Allan, CBI President, as he opened the CBI’s Annual Conference in London.

Motorway traffic in gridlock at night time
The CBI conference, which is attended from business leaders from across the UK, also challenged delegates to look again at their policies on diversity and inclusion, women in the boardroom, and to consider the implications of climate change.“The upcoming General Election must break the Brexit gridlock in Parliament,” Mr Allan said. While business might be excited about the prospect of other trade deals, basic maths ensured that remaining aligned and competitive with the EU remained vital.“Currently no party has the answers. It’s not as simple as ‘getting Brexit done’. Or ‘sorting Brexit in six months’. Or even, ‘stop Brexit’,” he said. “Whatever happens in this election we’ll be negotiating with the EU for years to come. Whether as a close friend or distant neighbour. So we need to have an honest conversation.”Business needed to be part of that conversation, he said. It had the expertise to help in continued negotiations with the EU; to build public support; and thereafter to grow trade and exporting across the world.

A Programme for UK Prosperity

The CBI also launched its "manifesto" for party leaders, called A Programme for Prosperity.CBI Director-General Carolyn Fairbairn in her speech warned against dangerous ideology from both sides of the political divide – and urged for a return of evidence and fact at the heart of the economy.

Brexit: UK at real risk of losing out globally

She called for a relentless focus on competitiveness – because the UK was at a real risk of losing out globally. Among the issues that need addressing, she cited industrial strategy, business rates, immigration policy, R&D spend, skills gaps and infrastructure. She singled out the importance of reskilling the UK’s workforce so that everyone, from every background, was in a position to prosper in the new technology age."We simply cannot afford another wasted year of political paralysis, indecision and distraction while productivity and investment suffer," she said.

Mixed reception to both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn

Delegates heard speeches from Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, and Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, in the morning session. Both speeches had mixed responses from delegates. Mr Johnson opened his address by describing his failed attempt at a business venture involving kitchen tiles when he was young, which raised a few laughs. Mr Corbyn insisted claims that Labour was anti-business as “nonsense”.

Jo Swinson, Lib-Dem leader, on her party's commitment to small business

In the afternoon it was the turn of Jo Swinson, Liberal Democrat leader, who insisted that hers was the “natural party of business”.Ms Swinson told delegates, “The Liberal Democrats are committed to supporting small businesses who are the engine of our economy. That's why the Liberal Democrats would scrap business rates and replace them with a commercial landowner levy.”Her other commitment was an individual “skills wallet” worth £10,000 which people could access at age 25, 40 and 55 to pay for lifelong education and reskilling. She also promised that there should be employee representation on company boards and said under the Liberal Democrats, 80% of the UK’s electricity consumption would be served by renewable power.She opened her speech by recalling her admiration of Anita Roddick, founder of the Body Shop, who combined business with activism and a social conscience, and she said it would be a “foolish Government” that failed to work with business.

CBI Director-General welcomes Lib-Democrat proposals for infrastructure investment

However, in response to the speech, CBI Director-General Dame Carolyn Fairbairn questioned whether the alternative to business rates was workable, and how employee engagement could be better achieved.“It was good to hear commitments from the Liberal Democrats on working with firms to tackle climate change, improve skills and backing business as a force for good,” she said.She welcomed the Liberal Democrat’s proposals to increase investment in infrastructure, which would better connect the UK’s regions and nations, close productivity gaps and facilitate a step change in exports. But she sounded a note of caution.“The Liberal Democrats recognise the broken business rates system needs fundamental reform. But moving to a land value tax is mired in complexity, and it remains unclear how it would cut overall costs or provide a level playing field. Much more detail will be needed.“Employee engagement is hugely important, but there are numerous ways to ensure staff views are represented at the highest levels rather than simply asking employees to sit on boards,” she said.

Read more news and views about Brexit and the UK

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