Theresa May’s speech promises reforms of competition policy and a tougher stance on tax

11 Jul 2016

Today’s developments mean that Mrs Theresa May is likely to become Prime Minister on Wednesday 13 July.

In her speech delivered this morning (before the news that Mrs Leadsom had withdrawn her candidacy for leadership of the Conservative Party), Mrs May made three points likely to be of particular relevance to readers of this blog.

Two of those points related to competition policy.  Under the heading “Putting people back in control” Mrs May referred to Kraft’s acquisition of Cadbury and expressed concern that “transient shareholders – who are mostly companies investing other people’s money – are not the only people with an interest when firms are sold or close. Workers have a stake, local communities have a stake, and often the whole country has a stake.”  Referring to Pfizer’s bid for AstraZeneca, she then went on to say that “A proper industrial strategy wouldn’t automatically stop the sale of British firms to foreign ones, but it should be capable of stepping in to defend a sector that is as important as pharmaceuticals is to Britain.”  Then, under the heading “Getting tough on corporate irresponsibility”, she promised “to use – and reform – competition law so that markets work better for people. If there is evidence that the big utility firms and the retail banks are abusing their roles in highly-consolidated markets, we shouldn’t just complain about it, we shouldn’t say it’s too difficult, we should do something about it.”

Under that last heading, she also said this about tax: “We need to talk about tax. Because we’re Conservatives, and of course we believe in a low-tax economy, in which British businesses are more competitive and families get to keep more of what they earn – but we also understand that tax is the price we pay for living in a civilised society. No individual and no business, however rich, has succeeded all on their own. Their goods are transported by road, their workers are educated in schools, their customers are part of sophisticated networks taking in the private sector, the public sector and charities. It doesn’t matter to me whether you’re Amazon, Google or Starbucks, you have a duty to put something back, you have a debt to your fellow citizens, you have a responsibility to pay your taxes. So as Prime Minister, I will crack down on individual and corporate tax avoidance and evasion.

Those scanning her speech for further details as to Mrs May’s thinking on Brexit will not have found much: she repeated her commitment to take the United Kingdom out of the EU, but said nothing further as to the type of relationship with the EU she envisages in future.