Julia Irvine 21 Nov 2019 11:28am

Lib Dems claim to be "natural home for business"

The UK must move on from the Brexit debate and refocus on what society and business need, the Liberal Democrats say – which is why, should they win the General Election, they aim to stop the UK’s departure from the European Union

In its 100-page manifesto, the party says it is “unashamedly” fighting to stay in the EU. “We believe that our best future as a country is as a member of the EU.  Any form of Brexit will damage our economy, put jobs at risk, hurt our NHS and put our family of nations under enormous strain. There is no Brexit deal that will ever be as good as the deal we currently have as a member of the EU.”

Indeed the first action it will take, should Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson make it through the door of Number 10, will be to revoke Article 50. And if she doesn’t, the party will carry on fighting for a people’s vote with the option to stay in the EU.

According to the manifesto, “The national humiliation of Brexit puts so much at risk – the NHS, public services, jobs across the country, scientific collaboration, peace in Northern Ireland, the unity of the UK, our ability to tackle global crises, such as climate change and our global reputation as a country that is confident and outward-facing.

“By keeping the UK in the EU, we can get on with tackling the real issues facing our country, using the Remain Bonus of £50bn to invest in public service and tackle inequality.”

As well as being the Remain party, the Lib Dems are laying claim to the title of the “natural home for business”.

To this end, they are pledging a £130bn investment in infrastructure, to upgrade transport and energy systems, build schools, hospitals and homes, empower the UK’s regions and nations and develop a climate friendly framework for the future.

They also want to see an adaptable, future-focused workforce and make available to every individual a £10,000 “skills wallet” towards retraining at stages throughout their careers. And they will introduce a well-being budget and take into account what will improve wellbeing alongside economic and fiscal factors when making government spending decisions.

The party has also committed to keeping up investment in the Northern Powerhouse and the Midlands Engine, particularly for infrastructure projects, and it will set ambitious national and local industrial strategies.

It will also expand the British Business Bank and put £5bn capital initially into a new Green Investment Bank, to attract private investment for zero carbon priority projects.

There will be increased national spending on R&D to 3% of GDP and a doubling of spending on innovation to “lay the foundations for the UK to be the best place in the world for innovation-led businesses in the long-term”, and “for the UK to lead the world in ethical inclusive new technology, including artificial intelligence”.

The Lib Dems are also targeting entrepreneurs and small businesses. The headline news is that they will scrap business rates, replacing it with a commercial landowner levy. But they will also provide start-up allowances, as well as mentoring support for fast-growing businesses seeking to scale up, prioritise SMEs in the roll-out of hyper fast broadband, and enforce the prompt payment code.

On the corporate governance side, the manifesto commits a Lib Dem government to encourage employers to promote employee ownership by giving employees of large listed companies (250 employees or more) a right to request shares to be held in trust for their benefit, and require at least one employee representative on the board.

There will be a general duty of care for the environment and human rights and all large companies would be required to have a formal statement of corporate purpose. The party will also consider extending the scope of the current “public interest” test in takeovers of UK companies to protect them from speculative or short-term interests.

Not surprisingly, the party is also keen to push its green credentials. Its first priorities, the manifesto says, will be: an emergency programme to insulate all British homes by 2030; to ban fracking for good and invest in renewable power so that at least 80% of UK electricity is generated from renewables by 2030; plant 60 million trees a year; and invest in public transport – electrifying the railways and ensuring all new cars are electric by 2030.

It will also establish a Department for Climate Change and Natural Resources to coordinate government action to make the economy sustainable, resource-efficient and zero carbon. It also intends to tax frequent fliers on their carbon emissions.

On the tax front, as well as getting rid of business rates, the Lib Dems intend to put corporation tax back up to 20%, abolish the capital gains tax free allowance and tax capital gains and salary through a single allowance, simplify business tax, end retrospective tax changes (like the loan charge), and scrap the marriage tax allowance.

Swinson believes that the General Election could result in “Seismic change out of which a new and different politics can emerge”. “A politics based on hope, not fear. A politics where every individual and community can thrive and where we work together to save our planet for future generations.

“For me the choice is clear. To stop Brexit and build that brighter future, vote Liberal Democrat,” she adds. We have the plan that this country deserves and we are ready to deliver it.”