The head of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) today expressed worries about the prospect of Boris Johnson becoming prime minister, saying “there would be deep concern amongst the business community”.
Carolyn Fairbairn also struck a fearful tone about Labour’s plans for the economy, telling the party in a talk in Westminster today: “Don’t do something stupid.”
Fairbairn, talking at the Institute for Government (IfG) with its head Bronwen Maddox, said “there’d need to be some real bridge-building” should Johnson become PM due to alleged past anti-business comments.
Fairbairn’s comments came as the pressure on Prime Minister Theresa May to resign ramped up. Last night it emerged that some pro-Brexit Tory MPs had launched a plan to change the party’s constitution so a new no-confidence vote can be held.
Former Brexit secretary David Davis said this morning: “The pressure for her to go will go up” following the deal she struck with the EU yesterday to extend Brexit until 31 October.
She said of Johnson: “What rings in our ears is his famous expletive.” In June 2018 Johnson was reported to have said “f*** business” when asked by a diplomat about firms’ fears over Brexit.
“That came as an enormous shock,” Fairbairn said today. “The idea that any Conservative minister would say that, I think was deeply shocking.”
“He’s not, I don’t think, talked very much to business,” she said. “We would be saying come and meet our members, come and hear what really matters.”
Fairbairn was wary of Labour’s plans for the economy, and confirmed she thought Labour’s proposal to make companies hand over as much as 10 per cent of equity to employees was “stupid”.
She said of the policy, which was announced at Labour’s party conference in September: “They hadn’t had any conversations with business at all so it was full of holes.”
“For example, domestic companies would have to give up 10 per cent of share capital and foreign-owned subsidiaries wouldn’t.” Fairbairn said this would be a “driver” of the trade deficit.
However, she said the CBI was sympathetic to Labour’s concerns “about inequality, about unfairness, about poor public services, about lack of trust” and said there were “consultations going on now with the shadow front bench about our ideas” for the share proposal.She said “if we don’t find ways of responding” to public concerns, business risks being “regulated in ways that are actually bad for investment and bad for jobs.”