CBI Director-General Carolyn Fairbairn spoke at the British Chamber of Commerce's Strategy & Leadership Breakfast in Madrid in front of senior business leaders from both Britain and Spain, members of the British Investment in Spain Committee, and representatives from the British Embassy.
She used the opportunity to highlight why Britain remains a good place to invest, despite Brexit - but why political compromise and a deal is crucial.
The speech came as part of a busy couple of weeks in which the CBI met with high-level international delegations from India, China, Turkey and Australia to push the importance of stronger trade and investment ties.
Thank you very much. It’s wonderful to be here. And thank you to the British Chambers of Commerce – not just for putting on this great event, but for all your support over the years – we at the CBI hugely value our relationship.
Together we can do so much more than we can alone. As you say here in Spain: ‘Cuatro ojos ven más que dos’. It means something like: ‘Two heads are better than one’
It’s a simple idea. But one that, I think we can all agree, has worked well for entrepreneurs and business leaders throughout history. And it’s exactly this spirit of collaboration – of partnership – that I want to talk about today.
Because this morning, we have a unique opportunity. Here in this room are some of the most successful diplomats, thinkers, and business leaders from two countries: the UK and Spain.
In many ways, we are very different. Two languages, two currencies and – unlucky for Brits – two different types of weather.
While we in the UK have just had the wettest June on record, in Spain 2019 has actually been a year of even less rain than usual. So much for ‘the rain in Spain’.
But we are brought together this morning not by our differences, but by our similarities. We all benefit from strong economies, frictionless trade, immigration, tourism, investment, growth.
So that’s what I want to focus on today.
How we can build on the prosperity and partnership of our two countries and where this shared collaboration might take us next.
Because our economic ties are historic. As old as Shakespeare – who had a fondness for Spanish sherry. To paraphrase, he wrote that a good Spanish sherry warms the blood, illuminates the face and to the tongue delivers excellent wit.
Perhaps now we know the source of his success.
And today our relationship is just as strong. We in Britain still enjoy not just your sherry, but your cava. Last year we imported it in record quantities. In fact, we drink more Spanish wine than we do that of South Africa and Argentina combined.
And not all of it – I hope – spent drowning our sorrows over the Brexit negotiations.
So yes, today, we take our friendship for granted. But when I was growing up, Spanish chorizo or Manchego cheese were rare sights on British supermarket shelves.
The change we’ve seen is the story of how, by building diplomatic and business links, slowly and patiently, the UK has now become the top destination for Spanish foreign investment. While British investment here is the highest in Europe.
It’s a story about how a single Spanish farm, the ‘Finca Las Lomas’ in Andalucía, every year supplies 20 million kilos of beef, broccoli, cauliflowers and oranges to UK supermarket shelves.
And these links are not just about produce, but people. Today, more Brits choose to live and work in Spain than any other part of the EU in turn driving tourism, creating jobs, and supporting local economies.
And much of our shared success is down to our shared businesses – many here this morning.
Think Santander, in financial services. Headquartered here in Spain. And one of our biggest banks – 800 UK branches, 20 thousand UK employees, and 14 million UK customers.
In transport, we have Iberia and British Airways – now combined as the International Airlines Group, together operating more than 570 planes – transporting over 100 million passengers each year.
In energy, there’s Scottish Power – part of Iberdrola. Or retail, think Zara – based in Galicia – with shops in almost every high street across the UK.
Just a few examples. But taken altogether – we share a vast web of talent, transport, and trade, and an economic relationship now at its strongest in history.
Which brings me to the elephant in the room. Or perhaps, we might say, the Spanish bull in the ring.
And I’d like to be clear that the CBI understands – that when it comes to investment many Spanish firms choose the UK because of the close relationship between our two countries and the single market – that enables our existing flow of goods, data, people, and knowledge.
It is why – with only 125 days to go until Brexit – the CBI echoes the calls of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez for the UK to avoid a ‘disorderly’ Brexit.
And in the coming months, we be making the case in public, and in private for certainty, clarity, and – above all – compromise from MPs, and from the next Prime Minister – whoever it may be when seeking to resolve the Brexit deadlock.
To ensure that both of our countries continue to enjoy the fruits of this historic partnership: Thousands of jobs. Billions invested in innovation, training, and infrastructure.
And vitally – the strength of our shared commitment to freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.
And actually, I think Spanish businesses investing in the UK do have cause for optimism looking ahead. Last year, in the UK, we witnessed the biggest increase in government-sponsored R&D funding for 40 years: hugely welcome news for our tech & manufacturing companies.
We recently secured approval for the expansion of Heathrow Airport. A decision that will benefit not just us, but our international neighbours.
The UK still contains 4 out of the top 10 universities in the world. We are the world’s largest producer of offshore wind power, and are leading the transition to a zero-carbon economy.
We currently have record employment. We are still a global magnet for talent – and a hub for FinTech, creative industries, professional services – among others.
And we will continue to benefit from an economy built on science, innovation, the rule of law, predictability, services.
So when people ask me – what does the future hold for the Anglo-Spanish partnership after Brexit? I say – infinite opportunities. Made possible by an open, collaborative relationship.
One that builds on our strengths – and which brings mutual benefits to both economies.
Because looking at the modern world we need this partnership now, more than ever. And it’s only through this partnership that we can tackle the big problems we face as a society: Climate change.
With our common pride in the Paris Agreement, we could focus on carbon neutrality by 2050 – a goal I know we share. Or protectionism. In the prevailing wind of tariffs and trade wars, we need to be defending our shared values: free trade, with a level playing field, starting by reforming and strengthening our independent arbiter – the World Trade Organisation.
And of course – above all – supporting business. Spanish firms investing in Britain, British firms investing in Spain, the crafters, grafters, entrepreneurs, and innovators that will fuel our future growth.
But there is one last thing I’d like to mention. Because all of this is not just about how we drive growth. It’s how we make this growth truly inclusive.
Yes, we want that close relationship after Brexit.
But the great thing about partnership – and the great thing about business is that we are uniquely positioned to compete, to find solutions, to some of the biggest problems facing society.
And surely – at the top of that list – is inclusion. Not merely creating profit and prosperity for a very few at the top. But shared prosperity – that gives people of all backgrounds, all walks of life – opportunities, a stake in society.
And actually, there’s a case for saying that this century will be the first truly inclusive century.
There was a time – not long ago – when a room like this would be a sea of uniformity. People of a single colour, class and gender. There would be some brilliant business leaders among them. But there would be, it’s safe to say, people who might have been fantastic entrepreneurs who never made it into the room. And business would be poorer for their absence.
Well, looking at the room today, I think that’s changed.
Yes, there’s a moral case for this inclusion. But I’m more interested in the economic case. The truth that an efficient market allocates resources – and talent – not where convention or prejudice would place them, but wherever they are best used.
It’s a simple truth. But one we have been astonishingly slow to realise. I think that’s changing. And it will be down to us, as businesses, to bring in that change together.
The gains to business will be great indeed. But to human progress – greater still.
So let me end by saying this. The UK-Spain relationship now stands at a historic fork in the road. Will we, in the UK, let Brexit make us a poorer, more isolated country?
Or can we, together, use this as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to get a good Brexit deal, strengthen our international partnerships, spark growth and prosperity for both our economies, and then share that prosperity – through genuinely diverse, inclusive workplaces and communities?
That is the challenge ahead of us. And at the CBI, we believe it can only be done one way: Partnership.
‘Cuatro ojos ven más que dos’
Two heads, instead of one.