Prime Minister Theresa May’s Speech at CBI Annual Conference 2016
21 November 2016
Thank you, thank you.
A week ago, I spoke at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet at the Guildhall and set out Britain’s historic global opportunity – to lead the world in understanding the extent to which some people feel left behind by the forces of capitalism, and embracing a new approach that ensures everyone shares in the benefits of economic growth.
Today, I want to talk about how – by working together – we can seize that opportunity and deliver the change that people want.
But it is not just an opportunity. It is a responsibility too.
For we believe in free markets. They are the means by which we spread opportunity and lift people out of poverty.
We believe in capitalism – the means by which we drive economic growth, putting people into work to provide for their families.
And we believe in business – the entrepreneurs and the innovators who employ millions of people up and down this country – the basis for our prosperity.
The Conservative Party and the government I lead will always believe in these things.
But I am here today not just to reaffirm these core beliefs, but to say that – if this is what we value – we need to be prepared to adapt and change.
For if we support free markets, value capitalism and back business – and we do – we must do everything we can to keep faith with them.
And with not enough people feeling that they share in the wealth created by capitalism – and with the recent behaviour of a small minority of businesses and business leaders undermining the reputation of the corporate world as a whole – the way to keep that faith is to embrace reform.
To do things differently. To recognise that some people – particularly those on modest to low incomes – people worried about the future of their children and their grandchildren – see these forces working well for a privileged few, but not always for them.
So today, I want to ask you to join me in shaping this new approach and seizing this opportunity.
I want to ask you to work with me to show that the forces of capitalism, globalisation and free trade offer the best hope for the problems facing so many people in our country.
I want you to help me show those who feel let down, left behind or marginalised that we can respond. We can change.
And that together, we can meet this great national moment with a great national effort to seize the opportunities ahead and build a stronger, fairer Britain – a country that works for everyone.
For this is a true national moment. The decision of the British people on the 23rd of June gives us a once-in-a-generation chance to shape a new future for our nation: the chance to build a stronger, fairer country.
That’s the kind of change people voted for – not just to leave the European Union, but to change the way our country works – and the people for whom it works – forever.
And I am determined that we will deliver the change they need.
So we will do things differently. Not carrying on with ‘business as usual’, but opening our minds to new ways of thinking – those of us in government, and those in business, too.
For government, it means not just stepping back and leaving you to get on with the job, but stepping up to a new, active role that backs British business and ensures more people in all corners of the country share in the benefits of your success.
For business, it means doing more to spread those benefits around the country, playing by the same rules as everyone else when it comes to tax and behaviour, and investing in Britain for the long-term.
All things that I know the vast majority of businesses do already. Not just by creating jobs, by supporting smaller businesses, training and developing your people, but also by working to give something back to communities and supporting the next generation.
I have no doubt at all about the vital role business plays – not just in the economic life of our nation, but in our society, too. But as Prime Minister, I want to support you to do even more.
That is why, when the Chancellor delivers the government’s Autumn Statement on Wednesday, he will lay out an agenda that is ambitious for business and ambitious for Britain.
He will commit to providing a strong and stable foundation for our economy: continuing the task of bringing the deficit down and getting our debt falling so that we can live within our means once again. He will build on the actions that our independent Bank of England has already taken to support our economy. And he will do more to boost Britain’s long-term economic success, setting out how we will take the big decisions we need to invest in our nation’s infrastructure so that we can get the country – and business – moving.
And 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.
I know that leaving the European Union creates uncertainty for business. I know that some are unsure about the road ahead or what your future operating environment will look like. And there will certainly be challenges – a negotiation like the one on which we are about to embark cannot be done quickly, or without give and take on both sides.
But there are opportunities, too. Opportunities to get out into the world and do new business with old allies and new partners. To use the freedoms that come from negotiating with partners directly, to be flexible, to set our own rules and forge new and dynamic trading agreements that work for the whole UK. Opportunities to become the true global champion of free trade.
And opportunities to demonstrate how a free, flexible, ambitious country like Britain can trade freely with others according to what’s in their own best interests and those of their people.
That is our aim and our ambition. And I am ambitious for Britain.
I believe that if we approach the difficult negotiations to come in the right way, with the right spirit, we can strike a deal that’s right for Britain and right for the rest of Europe, too.
And the right approach is not to rush ahead without doing the ground work, but to take the time to get our negotiating position clear before we proceed. It’s 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. It’s not to provide a running commentary on every twist and turn, but to acknowledge that businesses and others need some clarity – so where I can set out our plans without prejudicing the negotiation to come, I will.
That’s why I have been able to set out the timetable for triggering Article 50 – before the end of March next year. Why I want an early agreement on the status of UK nationals in Europe and EU nationals here, so that you and they can plan with certainty. And why we have been engaging heavily with businesses over the past few months to understand your priorities and concerns, and why we will continue to do so.
But while the negotiation to come will be critical, we must not lose sight of the wider message people sent on the 23rd of June.
And so, we must use this opportunity to build a more prosperous, more equal country – where prosperity is shared and there is genuine opportunity for all.
We have already received massive votes of confidence in Britain’s long-term future from some of the world’s most innovative companies. Nissan’s decision to build 2 next-generation models at its plant in the North East, securing 7,000 jobs. A record £24 billion investment from Softbank in Britain’s future; a £500 million expansion and 3,000 jobs from Jaguar Land Rover; a £200 million investment from Honda, £275 million from GlaxoSmithKline; investment in a new headquarters from Apple; an estimated £1 billion investment and 3,000 new jobs from Google; and this morning, Facebook have announced a 50% increase in their workforce in the UK by the end of 2017.
Yet there is more that government can do – not just to encourage businesses to invest in Britain, but to ensure those investments benefit people in every corner of the country.
That’s why one of my first actions as Prime Minister was to establish a new department with specific responsibility for developing a modern Industrial Strategy.
A strategy that will back Britain’s strategic strengths and tackle our underlying weaknesses.
Our strengths are clear. We are an open, competitive, trading economy. We compete with the best in autos, aerospace and advanced engineering. We are breaking new ground in life sciences and new fields like robotics, artificial intelligence, and quantum computing. We are leaders in global professional services from architecture to accountancy from law to consulting.
We’ve world beating universities and the highest research productivity of the top research nations. We have a vibrant creative industry, producing an extraordinary level of talent recognised and respected the world over. And of course, we’re leaders in global finance – not just banking, but investment management and insurance, too.