Speech by Business Secretary Sajid Javid to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders International Automotive Summit.
As the apocryphal Chinese curse says, “May you live in interesting times”.
Well, it has certainly been an interesting seven days in Westminster.
If nothing else, our nation’s political journalists are enjoying themselves tremendously!
The past week has produced millions of words of comment, analysis and discussion.
There’s been endless Parliamentary parlour games and Westminster whispers.
But none of that should distract us from the very real, very serious issues at hand.
Since Friday morning we’ve seen instability in the stock market.
We’ve seen the pound drop to a 31-year low.
We’ve heard talk of major employers making plans to move jobs out of the UK.
There’s no question about it, this is a challenging time for British business.
The nation and the economy are facing a situation is that completely without precedent.
Literally nobody has been here before.
There is no instruction manual.
And I know it’s a situation the SMMT had hoped to avoid.
Like me, three-quarters of your members wanted Britain to remain a member of the European Union.
Just last week Mike called it “critical” for the future of British car-making.
From multinationals to small specialist suppliers, the industry was unambiguous in its support for Remain.
Now I’m not going to pretend the past couple of months never happened.
I’m not about to start backtracking on some of the warnings that were made.
I don’t doubt that there will be difficult times ahead for Britain, particularly for British employers.
We’re entering a period of uncertainty and – let’s be completely honest – we don’t have a good idea how long it will last. But you can only play with the cards you’ve been dealt.
The people of the United Kingdom have issued their orders.
And as a Cabinet Minister it’s my job to put those orders into action.
So I won’t be sitting around complaining, pointing fingers, or reflecting on what might have been.
The UK will be leaving the European Union.
I have to make sure that happens in a way that works for British business.
A way that works for you.
The easiest thing in the world would be to stand on the sidelines throwing rocks.
But I’m not that kind of politician.
And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my time as Business Secretary, it’s that you’re not that kind of industry.
You don’t shirk from challenges, you rise to them.
Those qualities helped you become one of Britain’s most successful manufacturing sectors.
And those are the qualities that will help all of us to make it through the days to come.
So where do we go from here?
What happens next for Britain, for manufacturing, for the automotive industry?
Well, this decision may make conditions more challenging.
But it won’t make things impossible.
It creates a number of large, complex issues to overcome.
But we can overcome them.
And yes, we are sailing into unchartered waters.
But we are far from rudderless.
Contrary to some of the more alarmist headlines, the business of government continues.
Since Friday I’ve been in regular touch with heads of some of our biggest companies to reassure them and talk about next steps.
Cabinet met on Monday and we agreed to set up a cross-government Europe taskforce.
Yesterday I met with Britain’s business leaders, including Mike, to hear their views and set out our plans.
Through all that, my message for British business has been clear and simple.
Britain remains open for business.
This is not time for hasty decisions or rushed judgements.
The markets are volatile right now.
But this volatility has not come as a surprise.
All the experts predicted it.
And the government, the Bank of England and the Financial Conduct Authority have spent the past few months putting in place robust plans to deal with it.
The Treasury has been working with the major financial institutions to make sure they are able to deal with just this situation.
Swap lines had been arranged in advance, so the Bank of England can lend in foreign currency if needed.
The Bank of England stands ready to provide up to £250 billion to support banks and the smooth functioning of markets.
And the Chancellor has been in contact with G7 and European finance ministers, with the IMF, and with central bank governors around the world.
Most important of all, Britain’s economy is fundamentally strong.
And for that, much of the credit must go to our Prime Minister.
When David Cameron arrived in Downing Street in 2010 he inherited an economy that was on the brink.
The deepest recession in living memory, spiralling debt, a deficit that was out of control.
It speaks volumes about the Prime Minister that, just six years later, the economy is almost unrecognisable.
We’ve gone from a record-breaking recession to record employment.
During the last Parliament more jobs were created in Birmingham than in the whole of France.
The country is home to more private sector businesses than at any point in history.
The deficit is down from 11 per cent of national income to just three per cent.
Even after this week’s shock, the UK is still one of the biggest economies in the world.
And in a sky full of stars, your sector shines brighter than most.
The past few years have been incredible for the UK’s automotive industry.
A vehicle rolls off our production lines every 16 seconds, most destined for export.
Last year we built more cars than at any point in the past decade.
From the consumer forecourt to Formula One gird, the UK’s automotive expertise is clear to all.
And from apprenticeships to the Automotive Council to the Advanced Propulsion Centre, automotive has been a model of co-operation between government and industry.
The politicians and the engineers coming together to do what’s right for business.
What’s right for jobs.
What’s right for the people of Britain.
That is how we achieved the level of success the sector is experiencing today – and that is going to continue no matter what.
So although I’m here today to talk, I’m also keen to listen.
What can we do for you right now and in the future?
What do you need from the negotiations to come?
What does Britain’s motor industry want our new relationship with Europe to look like?
The decision the British people made last week will undoubtedly create many challenges.
But it also gives us a unique opportunity.
An opportunity to build from the ground up in a way that really works for Britain’s employers and employees.
And I want you to be a part of that.
I want to hear from you in the weeks and months ahead.
You know your sector, your suppliers, your investors better than anyone.
And remember this.
We are still a member of the European Union.
We are still inside the single market.
None of that is going to change overnight.
There’s a lot of negotiation to come, a lot of difficult decisions to make.
But let me reassure each and every one of you that I will be fighting each and every day to secure a settlement that works for British business.
We’ve all worked too hard to get our economy growing again.
Top of my list will be securing the tariff-free access to markets that are so important to Britain’s automotive industry.
I also want to make sure Britain continues to attract the best design and manufacturing talent from across Europe and around the world.
And I want the UK to remain a leading destination for international investment in manufacturing.
Because we cannot afford to turn our backs on the world.
Last Thursday we saw a vote to have more control over immigration.
Not a vote to put up the “closed” sign.
It’s almost 175 years since a young German named William Siemens arrived in Britain to set up what would become one of the world’s biggest engineering firms.
In a letter to his brother he wrote that “England is the place if anything is to be done.”
Long before the EU, long before the Common Market, the world knew that Britain was the place to do business.
That is not going to change.
Britain is open for business, and Britain will remain open for business.