Philip Hammond this morning sought to reaffirm the Tories as the “party of business” ahead of his Conservative Party Conference speech later today.
He also tried to bolster business confidence about the prospects of the UK negotiating a Brexit deal with the EU, amid rising concerns over the possibility of the UK leaving the bloc without an agreement.
“The Conservative party has business at its core. I will say that we are the party of business and always will be,” the chancellor told the BBC’s Today programme.
His comments follow the Confederation of British Industry’s demand for a “change of tone” from the Tory party at this week’s conference.
CBI director-general Carolyn Fairbairn said she wanted the government to signal its backing of businesses, following derogatory remarks from ex-minister Boris Johnson as businesses grow wary of a no-deal Brexit.
“Business holds the key through job creation and investment,” Fairbairn added.
“We need to be able to grow our way out of our low-productivity challenge and that is what we’re hoping to hear a lot more about today.”
Hammond admitted that uncertainty around the government’s Brexit negotiations was affecting business investment plans, but said he was confident that Prime Minister Theresa May’s Chequers plan would boost the economy.
May’s strategy would introduce a frictionless free trade area between the UK and EU, but top EU politicians dismissed the plan at a recent summit in Salzburg.
“Clearly there has been a hit to the economy through the uncertainty that the Brexit process has caused,” Hammond said.
“Many businesses are sitting on their hands frankly waiting to see what the out turn of this negotiation is before confirming their investment plans.
“I believe when the Prime Minister lands this deal and brings it back there will actually be a boost to the economy.”
He also criticised Johnson, claiming his former colleague was “incapable” of debating possible economic damage from any delays caused by UK border customs checks.
“Boris sits there and at the end of it he says ‘yeah but, er, there must be a way, I mean, if you just, if you, erm, come on, we can do it Phil, we can do it. I know we can get there.’ ‘And that’s it,’” he said.
The former foreign secretary, who quit over May’s Chequers plan, criticised the official government position again yesterday, claiming the proposal was “entirely preposterous” and “deranged”.