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Top business chief slams 'extreme ideology on both sides' in UK election

Tom Belger
Finance and policy reporter
CBI director general Carolyn Fairbairn. Photo: Adrian Dennis/AFP via Getty Images

Britain’s top business chief is warning against “extreme ideology” on both sides of the political divide as the UK gears up for a general election.

Carolyn Fairbairn, director general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), told the business group’s annual conference on Monday that some Labour and Conservative policy ideas were already harming the economy.

She said the politics of the radical left and right meant Britain was “facing a danger that could get in the way of a bright future.”

No-deal Brexit an ‘ideology of its own’

She said a no-deal Brexit had become an “ideology of its own” for some figures on the right of British politics, “seemingly intent on ignoring the impact on jobs and livelihoods.”

Some Brexiteers appeared to driven by an obsession with “the wholescale deregulation of the UK economy,” and even saw a no-deal Brexit as a desirable “end point” of Brexit negotiations.

“I want to be clear. This is not want British firms want. They’re intent on improving the quality of good jobs, not diminishing them,” she said.

The business leader also warned there was a “real possibility” of Britain failing to secure a trade deal before the end of the planned Brexit transition period at the end of 2020, amid Conservative hostility to any extension to the transition.

“Let’s not box ourselves in and create yet another cliff-edge that will involve all of that pain, all of that stockpiling, all of that slowdown, let’s keep our options open,” she said.

Labour nationalisation plans sent ‘chills through boardrooms’

Fairbairn also hit out at Labour over its nationalisation plans, warning its recent announcement on BT had sent “chills through boardrooms at home and abroad.”

She said the party’s proposals, which include taking rail, mail, energy and other firms into public ownership, would mark the biggest re-nationalisation programme Britain had ever seen.

She criticised the huge costs, “uncertain” returns to the taxpayer and lack of a “clear route” to better customer service.

Some firms were questioning whether their investments were safe, and asking if they were next.

The business chief urged the next government to “relaunch Britain as a pro-enterprise nation on the world stage” next year.

Finding the ‘party of business’

She said she was often asked which party was the “party of business,” and told the audience in London: “We need them all to be the party of business.”

The three main parties’ major goals of “more evenly shared” prosperity, the chance for young people to succeed and the protection of the environment were all “impossible without successful, responsible, passionate business.”

These aims were “absolutely huge” but “within our grasp,” she said.