22 November 2018


The CBI welcomes the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition to Annual Conference

Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn outline their competing visions for Brexit and the economy to CBI members.

The CBI welcomes the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition to Annual Conference

Earlier this week, over 1500 delegates came together to discuss the next generation of business and hear from speakers including the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition. The CBI’s Annual Conference was this year held in in partnership with Hays and Accenture, and sponsored by Advanced, Barclays, JLL, Ricoh, The University of Birmingham, IHG and Allermuir.

CBI President, John Allan, opened this year’s conference by thanking members and pointing to the collective strength of the CBI and the incredible results that strength has delivered. He highlighted a number of the CBI’s policy wins from the far-reaching reform of the Apprenticeship Levy, reform to the tax regime governing business investment, to the approval of the expansion of Heathrow.

But Brexit without a deal would have long-term repercussions for future prosperity. John made clear that this was the worst option for business, and supported the CBI’s stance of backing progress and moving on to technical talks quickly. In closing, he highlighted the role that business must play in Britain’s future. Only by working together with Government will we create a more prosperous society.

Read John Allan’s address to CBI Annual Conference

Following John’s introductory speech, CBI Director General, Carolyn Fairbairn, gave a short address and was subsequently interviewed by John Pienaar, Deputy Political Editor for BBC News. On Brexit, Carolyn said that continued uncertainty is already affecting firms’ investment intentions, resulting in changes to companies’ supply chains, and in some instances, jobs moving. Carolyn was clear that for CBI members the proposed deal – while not perfect - represented progress and that as it develops business will continue looking for three things:

  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. A deal for our services. We are a great services economy and future economic relationship needs to reflect that.
  3. A say over the rules. The UK is a major economy and has contributed significantly to good regulation – this needs to continue.

But there is more at stake than Brexit. A renewed focus on UK competitiveness is badly needed. To achieve this, Carolyn echoed John’s call for a new Joint Venture between business and government, working together to tackle problems and deliver prosperity, shared.

Read highlights from Carolyn Fairbairn’s Q&A session

The first political speaker was the Prime Minister, Theresa May. Granted a warm reception in the auditorium, the Prime Minister turned immediately to Brexit. She outlined her vision for a new relationship with the European Union, saying that her promises, ending freedom of movement, gaining control of all British laws, and leaving EU programmes that do not work in the UK’s interests, would all be delivered by the Withdrawal Agreement.

May went on to praise the role of business in society. Highlighting low unemployment figures and the difference having a job can make, she said: “It is why starting a business, growing a business, and keeping it thriving and successful are some of the most socially responsible things you can do in life.”

The CBI broadly welcomed these messages from the Prime Minister but disagreed with the false choice presented on immigration which would deny businesses the vital skills needed to succeed.

Read the Prime Minister’s speech to CBI Annual Conference

Read the CBI’s response to the Prime Minister's speech at CBI Annual Conference

Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, was the second political speaker at annual conference and closed the day’s proceedings. He criticised the government’s mishandling of the Brexit negotiations, which he said, “locks in uncertainty for another two, three, four – who knows how many more years?” and confirmed that Labour would vote against the government’s deal and demand a General Election if it cannot get it through Parliament. Corbyn went on to speak about the wider economy, saying that it was “unbalanced” which did not invest enough in people.

Read the Leader of the Opposition’s speech to CBI Annual Conference

Read the CBI’s response to Jeremy Corbyn’s speech at CBI Annual Conference

Over the course of the day, delegates also heard from Lionel Barber, Editor of the Financial Times, Ian King, Business Presenter for Sky News, Steve Murrells, Chief Executive of the Co-op, Jessi Baker, Chief Executive of Provenance and Josh Graff, UK Country Manager & VP EMEA of LinkedIn.

In keeping with the theme of Business: The Next Generation, members also heard from Romana Abdin, Chief Executive of Simplyhealth, Lynne Atkin MBE, HR Director & Group Head of Employee Engagement at Barclays Plc, Warren East, Chief Executive of Rolls Royce, Valerie Todd CBE, HR Director for UK & ROI in Siemens Plc, and Claire Valoti, Vice President International of Snap Inc. These speakers all highlighted the role of young people in business and spoke about how they can best challenge the way businesses recruits, works, and operates.