‘Radical’ Brexit opportunities could save UK from cost of living crisis – CBI chief

Britons set for 'devastating hit' if Sunak policy fails says CBI boss

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Tony Danker, a Remainer-turned-Brexiteer, said Brexit provided opportunities to “grow and flourish”, but that if it wasn’t used to its full potential, he believes there would be “more incidents like the National Insurance problem” with taxes and borrowing soaring. With the current cost of living crisis in Britain, Mr Danker called for “radical discussions” and urged Brexit Opportunities minister Jacob Rees-Mogg to make use of the economic freedoms that came with sovereignty.

Speaking in a wide-ranging interview with the Telegraph’s Chopper Politics podcast, Mr Danker, who became CBI director-general in late 2020, admitted the CBI had been wrong in its pre-Brexit estimations of Britain’s economic future.

He said: “I was not a Brexiteer, but I am a post-Brexiteer. I’m interested in what happens now. Brexit is a two-part process, part one – we leave. Part two – we grow, we flourish.

“The swashbuckling, Conservative enterprising party makes Britain a high growth country. I’m waiting for that part. That is the bit I am signed up for.”

However, he warned that ministers needed to grab these opportunities before it was too late, indicating that the Government had been too slow to exploit the full range of Brexit opportunities

He said: “Taxes are on the rise. Debt is on the rise and growth is flatlining. My big concern…is that unless this Government works out how to get growth going, we are going to have more incidents like the National Insurance problem where, of course, spending needs to go up.”

He added: “The pressures on public spending are inexorable. I’m not sure how much higher taxes can go, so you either borrow more, which I don’t think many Tories want to do, or you grow more.

“I just don’t think the Government has done enough post-Brexit, post-pandemic crisis and in the light of what has been happening in [Ukraine] to get the country growing again.”

However, Mr Danker said there was plenty that could be done by Government to kickstart growth, and Brexit was the key.

He said he wanted to engage in “a radical discussion” about what Brexit could offer the UK, and called on Mr Rees-Mogg to do more.

He said: “What are the Brexit opportunities? If you ask me, number one, now that we actually are sovereign [we can build] an economic strategy to grow faster than the rest of Europe.

“Number two, we now can think about international trade on our terms, we should be thinking about services, because we’re a very services-dominated economy.”

Directing his comments at Mr Rees-Mogg, Mr Danker said: “I want to see the Brexit Opportunities Minister say ‘I am no longer constrained by state aid. I’m going to put Government right in the middle of that’.”

Mr Danker said the UK had demonstrated its ability to lead on a global scale with its rapid approval and rollout of the Covid vaccine, saying the UK must develop “the smartest, fastest regulation” to tackle the problems facing the world today.

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He said the Brexit Opportunities minister should use post-Brexit freedoms to ensure the UK leads the way in renewable energy, with plans such as the doubling in size of a wind turbine blade factory in the Humber used as an example.

He asked: “What are we backing? Are we backing emerging British success stories?”

Urging the Government not to drop its net-zero pledge, Mr Danker said: “I am telling you now, all the money is green, and the City of London is filled with people looking to deploy their money.

“And I’m telling you, the European Union is using their Covid Resilience Fund basically to build green technology…The growth is green.”

The Government and CBI have had a historically fractious relationship, particularly surrounding Brexit negotiations.

Addressing this in the podcast, Mr Danker said: “My reflection on the whole Brexit period is that business people didn’t like Brexit, most of them, because it was a curtailment of free trade. Surprise, surprise, they didn’t like it, right?

“The political class interpreted that as a grand political act, and they didn’t understand that sovereignty was more important.

“And you know what? They are right – sovereignty was more important.

“I’ve said to the Prime Minister and to others: ‘For us, it was just business, but for you, it was something bigger’.”

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