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CEOs tell PM May to make Brexit a success by looking beyond the EU and adopting a little swagger about the benefits of the country’s economy

Global chief executives and investors had some sharp advice for Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday: Make Brexit a success by looking beyond the European Union and adopting a little swagger about the benefits of the world’s fifth largest economy.

While repeatedly calling for a close relationship with the EU after Britain’s divorce, May has also pitched what she calls a more “global Britain” by reaching out to new trade partners as well as boosting links with traditional allies around the world.

So far May has given few details about her vision of a “global Britain”, but CEOs and investors at a London conference on Brexit urged the government to ensure the economy remained an open and profitable place to do business.


“Sometimes if you build a really good store, with really good pricing, people will actually come and all you have to do is advertise it,” said Jeff Sprecher, the chief executive of InterContinental Exchange (ICE), which has trading and clearing operations in London.

“So I think the UK should have a little bit of swagger,” he told the event, which was tagged ‘coming together to make Brexit a success’.

Critics of Prime Minister Theresa May argue she risks damaging the economy by breaking too abruptly with the EU and trusting the country’s trading future to other markets yet uncertain. Others have expressed concern she could turn Britain into a low-tax ‘haven’ with limited social provision.

Sprecher said that while he had been approached by almost every major financial centre in the EU about relocating his business there, he had heard little from Britain.

“There is an opportunity to get back to a pro-business, low-tax, globally-friendly environment which is where I think the natural tendency of the UK is once it is outside the EU.”

While the United Kingdom’s $2.5 trillion economy has shown unexpected resilience since the shock Brexit vote, some CEOs have called on the government to set out more clearly its pitch to the world after the EU divorce.

U.S. President Donald Trump is due to release a tax plan on Wednesday that proposes to sharply slash business taxes and steeply discount the rate on corporate profits brought back into the United States, ICE’s home country.


Bonfire of the regulation?

Helena Morrissey, chair of the Investment Association, said Britain needed to strike the right balance on post-Brexit financial regulation, not ending up with too tight a regime but also cautioning against a “regulatory bonfire”.

She said Britain’s aspirations should lie globally and it should think more broadly, beyond its relationship with the EU.

“At present, regulation is set on a global basis … Increasingly, the EU has become a regulatory law-taker, not necessarily a law-maker,” she told the event.

“We have a really big foot on that stage, as things stand, and we have nothing to fear; we’re respected as thinkers on a regulatory basis.”

Nigel Wilson, chief executive of insurer Legal & General, also said there were “immense” business opportunities beyond Europe.

Clock is ticking

Others urged the government to provide clarity on Britain’s future relationship with the EU before too many businesses have implemented contingency plans.

Britain’s former EU commissioner Jonathan Hill, who backed remaining in the bloc and resigned after the Brexit vote, said the country and its politicians needed to get beyond the Brexit debate as businesses did not have the luxury of “endlessly refighting the referendum”.

“They are having to take decisions every day about where to invest, where to locate, how to develop their business or institution, and for them … the clock is ticking,” he said.

HSBC Chairman Douglas Flint told the conference that banks were looking for clarity as soon as possible.

“It would be better to get a good deal in a reasonably short period of time, rather than a really excellent deal so far into the future that people will have triggered all their contingency plans,” he said.

But Britain must also look beyond the EU and ensure it does not close off opportunities with the rest of the world, said Francisco Sanchez, former U.S. Under Secretary of Commerce.

“I would urge the UK to simultaneously begin conversations with other nations that it wants to move forward with free trade agreements,” he said, adding that while he had first panicked at the Brexit vote result, he now saw opportunities to be seized.

“If you bind yourself with the EU in certain ways that tie your hands in other negotiations I think you are going to short change the opportunities that are out there. So I think you have to walk and chew gum at the same time.”