Boris Johnson has told 30 leading chief executives that he will seize “the opportunities of Brexit” and use Britain’s new regulatory freedoms to help rebuild Britain’s economy after the Covid-19 crisis.
Mr Johnson was chairing the first meeting of a new business council, intended to rebuild strained relations between Number 10 and corporate Britain after the trauma of Brexit and to develop a post-pandemic plan.
The “build back better” business council, which held its first meeting by video call, was told by Mr Johnson that the government would form a partnership with the private sector to revive the economy.
He said Brexit would allow Britain to draw up new rules to speed the development of new economic sectors, while investing in skills, infrastructure and innovation.
“The prime minister outlined the need to seize opportunities of Brexit, support job creation, cement the UK’s position as a science superpower, deliver an upgrade to infrastructure and launch a green industrial revolution,” Number 10 said.
Kwasi Kwarteng, new business secretary, said the regulatory freedom would allow Britain to “improve” its regulatory standards, reflecting a lack of appetite among business leaders for a “bonfire” of existing rules.
The CBI employers’ federation said there was little appetite for the UK to pursue deregulation to create a “Singapore on Thames” after the prime minister asked business leaders this month for ideas on how to cut red tape.
Rain Newton-Smith, chief economist at the CBI, said: “I don’t get any sense from the business community that there is a drive to have a race to be Singapore-on-Thames. They want to ensure we have the right protection for workers, and the right system to incentivise investment.”
Rishi Sunak, chancellor, made clear that he backed the idea of an “active state” to support the recovery. He said the government would work with the private sector “to create and secure the jobs of tomorrow”.
The conference call with 30 chief executives from companies such as BP, BT, ITV, Unilever and HSBC, was the first of a series of meetings. It will meet at least quarterly and members from the corporate sector will serve a 12-month term.
People on the call said the prime minister struck an upbeat tone, with a focus on positive ways that business could help support the economic recovery through investment.
The chancellor also stressed the importance of skills as a means of improving productivity, another person said. “It was clear that the chancellor was holding the pen over the long-term economic plan,” he added.