19 November 2018


Carolyn Fairbairn at #CBI2018 Annual Conference

CBI Director General Carolyn Fairbairn’s opening Q&A session at the CBI’s Annual Conference.

Carolyn Fairbairn at #CBI2018 Annual Conference

Five key takeaways from Carolyn's session:

'A moment for compromise'

There have been twenty months of negotiations since Article 50 was triggered. What we have on the table is a draft deal that while not perfect, is a step forwards. Crucially, if agreed, it would take the prospect of cliff edge no deal off the table by unlocking the transition period. It’s vital we build on this hard-won progress in the coming weeks.

Continued Brexit uncertainty is already affecting firms’ investment intentions, resulting in changes to companies’ supply chains, and in some instances, jobs moving.

This is the moment when we all must compromise to achieve progress. Let’s not go backwards.

'Investment today creates jobs tomorrow'

Businesses are realists and pragmatists. And they desperately want to focus on the domestic policy agenda, such as skills, innovation, infrastructure to increase the UK’s productivity growth and competitiveness.  

Continued uncertainty over transition means contingency plans have accelerated in recent weeks. Stockpiling is taking place and jobs are being taken out of the country. And crucially investment that would have come here has not. Recently £100m which was to be invested in the North East has instead gone to Eastern Europe - a pattern repeated elsewhere across the country.

Investment today creates jobs tomorrow – raising living standards - and that’s why securing a good Brexit deal matters so much for our prosperity.

'£30k cap is too high'

It’s simply untrue to suggest access to European labour is dampening investment or negatively impacting UK productivity. It’s the opposite. While it’s a reasonable objective for the UK to want to bring immigration down over time, we need an open and controlled approach that meets economic needs and commands public confidence. We should focus on people’s contribution, not numbers.

We have built very successful businesses aided by free movement. That will come to an end, but any  overnight change would cause enormous damage to our economy. It’s vitally important firms get ample time to adapt.

Furthermore, the proposed £30k salary threshold on people coming into the country is crude and arbitrary. If implemented, this will affect construction workers, care workers as well as architects’ assistants and lab technicians. All these roles and others who do incredibly important jobs that are vital to our economy.

'The 3 key targets of a future relationship with the EU'

  1. A guarantee of frictionless trade. In terms of supply chains and our businesses, it can’t as frictionless as possible – it must be entirely frictionless.
  2. We want a deal for our services. We are a great services economy and future economic relationship needs to reflect that.
  3. We need a say over the rules. The UK is a major economy and has contributed significantly to good regulation – this needs to continue.

'Step away from Canada'

The Canada model would not eliminate frictionless trade. It was designed for two economies that are far apart. The UK and EU begin from complete alignment. What we need is a bespoke deal that is right for the UK.