May accepts Brexit challenges but points to opportunities

In her address at the CBI Annual Conference, Theresa May acknowledged the challenges facing UK companies due to the EU referendum but went on to insist that Brexit will provide new opportunities for all.

British Prime Minister Theresa May gives a keynote speech about British industry at the 2016 CBI Annual Conference

Source: The CBI and Creative Commons

Prime Minister Theresa May conceded on Monday that there would "certainly be challenges" for UK companies because of the referendum vote to leave the European Union but insisted Brexit also opened new opportunities.

Brexit provides flexibility

Addressing the annual conference in the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) in London, Mrs May said leaving the EU would give the UK the flexibility to strike trade deals around the world. "I know that leaving the European Union creates uncertainty for business," she told the conference of 1,000 business leaders. "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."I believe that if we approach the difficult negotiations to come in the right way and with the right spirit, we can strike a deal that is right for Britain and right for the rest of Europe too."The right approach is not to rush ahead without doing the groundwork, but to take the time to get our negotiating position clear before we proceed." 

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"The best possible deal for UK companies"

Mrs May said that she accepted that "businesses and others need some clarity" and promised to reveal details when she could. She added the negotiations would be aimed at getting "the best possible deal for the UK for companies trading with and operating within the single European market".She pledged her government would "always believe in business" and the benefits it brought but she said companies needed to do "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".

"We believe in business"

Mrs May added, "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." Later, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn addressed the conference and said his party would be "on the side of the innovators, entrepreneurs and investors" as long as they treated workers fairly by paying decent wages and respecting employees' rights.He expressed concern over "mishandled, chaotic Brexit" negotiations by Mrs May's government and promised that a future Labour administration would use a £500 billion national investment bank to "break the logjam" in bank lending which has "starved" small and medium-sized companies.

For related news and features, visit our Enterprise and Brexit sections.

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