Tue. Jan 19th, 2021

General Election 2019: what are the party leaders pitching to business leaders?


CBI director general Carolyn Fairbairn

TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images

Labour, Tories and Lib Dems out to woo Britain’s biggest employers at CBI conference

In Depth

James Ashford

Monday, November 18, 2019 – 10:37am

Jeremy Corbyn, Boris Johnson and Jo Swinson will try to win over sceptical business leaders in speeches at the Confederation of British Industry’s annual conference today.

The three party leaders will each make their case to the business lobby as the CBI’s director general, Carolyn Fairbairn, warns that UK business “simply cannot afford another wasted year of political paralysis, indecision and distraction while productivity and investment suffer”.

So what will each of the parties promise?


Corbyn will vow to create 320,000 apprenticeships in England during Labour’s first term in office if the party gains power following the 12 December election.

Labour plans to train 80,000 people a year as part of a “climate apprenticeship” programme that would see apprentices learning skills for construction, manufacturing and design jobs within renewable energy, transport, sustainable agriculture and forestry, the BBC reports.

“Labour’s Green Industrial Revolution will be a central motor of the party’s plans to transform our country and economy, using public investment to create good, clean jobs, tackle the climate emergency and rebuild held back towns, cities and communities,” Corbyn will tell the conference, in London.

The scheme would be funded by money that employers already set aside through the Apprenticeship Levy, and would be topped up by dividends paid into Inclusive Ownership Funds – to be set up under plans to give workers at larger companies a 10% stake in their firm.

Labour also wants to negotiate a new Brexit deal that would include a customs union and a closer relationship with the EU single market. Voters would then be able to have their say in a referendum offering a choice between the Labour withdrawal deal or remaining in the EU.

Tej Parikh, chief economist at the Institute of Directors (IoD), said: “The fact that Labour has combined its proposal with the promise of wider reform suggests it is aware of the challenges and willing to work with businesses to iron out the creases.”


Johnson will pledge to end Brexit “uncertainty”, while admitting to the conference that “big business didn’t want Brexit. You made that clear in 2016 and this body said it louder than any other.”

“But what is also clear is that what you want now – and have wanted for some time – is certainty,” the prime minister will continue.

The Tory leader will present plans to help businesses “make the most of Brexit”, including a review of business rates in England, with the aim of reducing the overall burden of the tax. 

He will also promise to cut four taxes on companies including the National Insurance contributions paid by employers, who already benefit from a reduction known as the employment allowance.

The IoD’s Parikh said that tax breaks to spur growth were “a sensible move” but added that “though a thorough review into business rates would be welcome, further reliefs are also needed for the here and now”.

Johnson will conclude: “With a Conservative majority government, you can be sure we will get Brexit done and leave with the new deal that is already agreed – ending the uncertainty and confusion that has paralysed our economy.”

Liberal Democrats

Swinson will tell delegates that the Liberal Democrats are the “natural party of business” because of their opposition to Brexit. The Lib Dem leader will also use her speech to criticise planned infrastructure projects put forward by Labour and the Tories.

“Both the Conservatives and Labour will have to scramble around for projects to pour money into just to keep their word – regardless of whether they’re good projects and good use of public funds,” she is expected to say.