IoD director general Simon Walker has said that Britain must promote free trade and deregulation for the nation to thrive in a post-Brexit world.
Walker was opening today’s IoD’s Annual Convention, the biggest and most prestigious business event in the UK, and said: “To me the choices are clear: is a post-Brexit United Kingdom going to revert to insularity and protectionism, slashing immigration, subsidising failing industries and curbing foreigners investing in British businesses? That was Britain in the sixties and seventies.
“Or will we choose a different future, equally rooted in (historic) tradition, and revived in the eighties: an open economy based on free trade and deregulation, where competition drives public policy, and aspiration replaces entitlement.”
He has warned against the dangers of an ‘interventionist government’ like the one promised by shadow chancellor, John McDonnell.
Addressing an audience of British business leaders at the Royal Albert Hall, Walker added, “It is hard to engage with a parliamentary opposition that seems to regard it as a badge of shame to be involved in productive enterprise.
“We don’t think business is above reproach. I agreed with the shadow chancellor’s criticism of Mike Ashley and Philip Green in his party conference speech yesterday – they have done great damage to the reputation of business.
“But their failures are neither typical of business, nor are they justification for the type of massive state intervention into industry Labour are now advocating.
“Prosperity does not come from the state. Ministers can create the right environment for growth, but it is wholly wrong to think they can manage and dictate every aspect of the economy without it killing innovation and competition.”
Walker also lamented what he sees as the decline of the Labour party and said the Conservatives are not ‘at all worried about losing.’
“I am not anti-Labour. I was a member of the Labour Party, chairman of the Labour Club at university: my first job was working for a Labour politician,” he stressed.
“Opposition parties of any political colour can engage productively with business, taming the excesses of capitalism, and - vitally - monitoring government: keeping the other guys honest. But for this to be effective there has to be some prospect of ever winning an election.
“Because there is stuff the government is getting wrong. The detail is often flawed. There are mixed messages where business needs certainty. Whatever your politics they need to be kept on their toes.”
In a wide-ranging speech, the outgoing director general, who leaves the IoD at the end of 2016 after five years at the helm, said that Britain must embrace globalisation.
“We believe governments should take a long-term view, rejecting mickey-mouse tinkering, arbitrary rules, and poorly thought out levies that limit a company’s ability to hire and train.
“That they should spread the benefits of globalisation, acknowledge the inevitability of disruption, and plan for jobs not yet created in industries that are still to emerge”.”
In conclusion, he thanked the IoD and its members for ‘five roller-coaster, but very fulfilling years’ and said, ‘I don’t want to see Britain, or the IoD, looking backwards. If all of us - government and business - are going to survive and thrive through the 21st Century, we cannot cling to the relics of the 20th.”
Find out more in our Annual Convention 2016 hub