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What are the Conservative leadership candidates promising businesses?

Written by: Keith Tully

Published: 4th July 2019

Boris Johnson and Jeremy HuntWe have already seen the field whittled down to just two candidates in the race to become Prime Minister. Left in the running is Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Jeremy Hunt, alongside Foreign Secretary and former London Mayor, Boris Johnson. With Tory party members now having the final say on who will take over from Theresa May, the race is on to sway these voters during the final weeks of campaigning.

The two candidates will take part in a number of hustings across the country in the lead up to the decisive vote on July 22 where we will learn more about their strategy for negotiating Britain’s exit from the EU, how they propose to handle public spending, and tackle crime.

We will also learn more about what each candidate is promising small businesses and their owners across the country should they move into Number 10 this summer. Here is what we know so far:

Jeremy Hunt

Jeremy Hunt is outspoken when it comes to his stance on helping small businesses, and he often makes reference to his previous experience as an entrepreneur of a successful publishing company. It is therefore no surprise that Hunt has tabled a series of measures designed to help relieve the burden placed upon small businesses across the country.

  • Corporation tax

Arguably Hunt’s most controversial proposal is to slash corporation tax, taking it down from the current rate of 19% to just 12.5% in a move Hunt claims will “turbo charge the British economy.” He believes that this reduction in corporation tax will not only strengthen Britain’s position when it comes to Brexit negotiations, but will also help companies should a deal fail to be agreed. In his own words, Hunt says, “I want to land an economic jumbo jet on Europe’s doorstep so that when it comes to those trade talks, they need us every bit as much as we need them.”

This reduced rate of corporation tax would put Britain equal with Ireland and would represent one of the lowest business tax systems in the world. The IFS has estimated this move will come in at a cost of around £13bn a year, at least during the initial period of implementation.

  • Business rates

In a separate move, Hunt has also promised that 90% of high street businesses will no longer be liable for business rates, This is bound to be a popular move with business rates seen as a costly overhead which is often blamed for crippling small and independent bricks and mortar retailers who are already struggling to compete with online stores.

  • Brexit

Although acknowledging the potential risks to businesses across the country, Hunt was resolute that he would be aiming to lead Britain out of the EU on October 31, declaring that he will make his decision on whether a deal is likely to be agreed to even earlier on September 30. Hunt also confirmed that he would be willing to take Britain out of the EU on a no-deal basis, if required, so long as this option has not been ruled out by Parliament before that date.

When questioned as to how he would explain this decision to businesses that could potentially fail as a result of him taking this extreme line, Hunt declared that he would be willing to look business owners in the eye and tell them that the loss of jobs may be necessary in order to allow Britain to exit the EU albeit “with a heavy heart”.

His comments have sparked anger amongst business groups and fellow Conservative party members alike, with a senior member labelling them “shocking” and accusing him of speaking “frivolously” about an issue which has the potential to put thousands of jobs, businesses, and livelihoods on the line.

Despite this criticism, Hunt has promised that supporting businesses will be his upmost priority in the event of a no-deal Brexit, even going so far as to say that other spending plans would be put on the backburner to allow funding to be directed towards helping businesses. In particular he has singled out the fishing and farming industries as being in line for a share of a proposed £6bn support fund to help ease the transition for potential vulnerable companies.

Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson has claimed he is the UK’s most pro-business politician despite the notorious ‘f**k business’ fiasco in 2018. He made the comments when discussing the possibility of a hard Brexit and the fallout this could have on businesses up and down the country. Keen to make amends, Johnson has been hyping up his credentials as a business-friendly politician, going as far as claiming to be “the most passionately pro-business Conservative politician you could hope to meet.”

He goes further; pointing people to what he claims is a “pretty extraordinary record as a politician for sticking up for business at every conceivable opportunity”.

By his own estimation, Johnson claims that “as foreign secretary I spend a lot of my time promoting UK business, both in this country and abroad,” an attitude that business owners across the country will hope is maintained should Johnson become Prime Minister. 

Unlike Hunt, Johnson has not, as of yet, tabled proposals aimed solely at SMEs and other enterprises. However, former leadership rival, Matt Hancock, who has now thrown his support behind Johnson, has voiced his belief that “a Boris administration will be pro-business, pro-enterprise, [and] supportive of the aspirational and the international.”

  • Brexit

Johnson has made clear his intention to remove Britain from the EU by the end of October, and will not hesitate to do this with or without a deal in place. Historically holding much more staunch Eurosceptic views than Hunt, Johnson campaigned for the Leave vote during the Brexit referendum. What this abrupt removal from the EU would mean for businesses is unknown, as is whether Johnson is planning any sort of support package to companies who would be hit hard by this act.

  • Increasing the higher-rate tax threshold

Although not solely affecting business owners, it is worth mentioning here Johnson’s plan to raise the higher-rate income tax threshold from its current level of £50,000, up to £80,000 in a move which would be of financial benefit to the top 10% earning households in the country. It has been estimated that around 4 million taxpayers would be an average of £2,500 better off each year as a result of these measures, however, according to the IFS, implementing this scheme would come at an annual cost of £10billion. Johnson has been criticised by some for implementing a tax cut for the richest members of society.

Keith Tully

Keith Tully

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Keith has been involved in Business Rescue since 1992, during which time he’s worked for both independent and national firms. His specialties include company restructuring matters and negotiating with HMRC on his clients behalf.

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