Prime Minister David Cameron made a speech to the UK Trade & Investment business summit calling for a big change in the country's approach to the importance of trade in foreign relations.
I think that what you are discussing today is probably the most important subject facing this country. We are coming out of a very deep and difficult recession, growth is fragile, and it is absolutely vital for our economy that we attract the maximum amount of inward investment and that we do everything we can to demonstrate that the British economy is open for business, open for trade, open for investment. So I did not want to miss this chance to say how important I think the subject you are dealing with this morning really is.
It is not just Andrew Cahn and me and Vince Cable who are here; you have different ministers on every single table, from the Foreign Office, from Defence, from Trade, from Industry, from Transport, to do everything they can to listen to the issues that you have, to make sure we maximise the amount of investment into our country.
There were really just three very simple things I wanted to say to you this morning. The first is that this government has lost no time at all in dealing with the biggest issue facing the British economy, and that is the scale of the our deficit and our debts. I think we have shown an incredibly strong and clear and positive start with showing how Britain is once again going to live within her means. I think this is very important, obviously for the government, but I think it is also important for you. The most important thing is to know that you have a strong and stable and balanced economy, with monetary policy set so that interest rates can stay low for as long as possible. To me, that is what dealing with the budget deficit is all about. I am delighted that yesterday the OECD went out of their way to praise what we have done as courageous and sensible and actually setting a strong framework for the British economy for the future.
So, yes, this is a coalition government; yes, sometimes that will mean compromises and all the rest of it. But this government has been incredibly firm at actually getting to grips with the problem of our deficit and showing others in the world that it can be done and that it must be done. That was the first thing I wanted to say.
The second is that you will find this government an incredibly pro-enterprise and pro-business government. It’s not just that we know we need to attract your investment; it’s that we want to attract your investment. And in that budget, while we had to make some difficult cuts, we also made an incredibly important cut too, and that is a cut in the rate of corporation tax - not just this year, but next year and the year after - so that we end up with a 24% corporation tax, which will be amongst the lowest in the developed world. Because I think, in the modern world, the corporation tax rate that you set is like an advertisement for your country. It is saying, ‘Come and invest here, and we will tax you less than other countries’. So in spite of all the difficult decisions that we’ve had to make, I wanted that to be an absolutely key change.
But that won’t be all. You will see a government that will be deregulating; that for any new regulation ministers want to introduce, they have to scrap an existing regulation; and you’ll see a government that, in every way, will do what it can to make Britain a great place to do business. And the question I will be asking Vince Cable and his team every month, and George Osborne and his team, is, ‘What have you done this month to make it easier to do business here? What have you done to make it easier to fill in your tax return? What have you done to make it easier to take someone on and employ them? What have you done to make it easier to set up a new business?’ That is the agenda of this government.
The third and final thing I wanted to say is this: that I think we need to have quite a big step change in our approach to foreign and diplomatic relations in massively upgrading the importance of trade in terms of the contacts that we have with other countries. I want us to be more like other countries: whenever you meet a minister from other countries, they always seem to have a checklist of things that they want from the UK. And I’ve said that it doesn’t matter if it’s the Junior Minister for Paperclips and they’ve got a five-minute meeting in a departure lounge anywhere else in the world with the opposite number of Junior Minister for Paperclips, from whatever country, however small, I want them to have a clear list of the things that Britain would like to open markets in that country, to get investment in that country, to increase both imports and exports. We should be messianic in wanting to see free trade and open markets around the world, and our foreign policy will be helping to deliver that in a totally new, more hard-headed, more commercial way. I think that is vital for Britain as we come out of recession and into recovery.
So that’s a very simple agenda that I think matters: dealing with our debts and our deficit; making sure we’re a business-friendly government; and pushing far harder on trade, whether that is bilaterally, multilaterally or indeed encouraging inward investment as you are discussing this morning.
The most important thing about this morning is not hearing a long speech from me, but making sure that on your tables you have good interaction with the ministers that you have here, to push the points that you want to change to help inward investment into our country. So thank you for coming this morning. Thank you again to Andrew and Vince for hosting this breakfast. I think we do have a fantastic record, in this country, of being one of the most open countries for inward investment, and the record backs that up over decades. But as far as I’m concerned, you cannot rest on your laurels in this world for one second; in this modern, competitive, globalised world, you’ve always got to be asking: what more can you do to get more investment, more jobs, more trade? That’s what this government’s going to be all about, so thank you very much indeed for coming and talking to us this morning. And thank you for the investment that you already make in our country. Thank you.