What are the Conservative leadership contenders saying about supporting small businesses?

What are the Conservative leadership contenders saying about supporting small businesses?
Dan Martin
Dan MartinDan Martin Content & Events

Posted: Sun 23rd Jun 2019

It's down to the final two in the race to become Conservative leader and prime minister. Here's where Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson stand on issues relevant to small businesses. Read what they've said and vote in the poll at the end of the post. We will update the post as more comments are made.

Jeremy Hunt

Jeremy Hunt previously ran his own two businesses. His second venture was the most successful with publishing company Hotcourses selling for £30m in 2017 netting Hunt £14m.

In a promotional video, he spoke about his struggles as a young entrepreneur. Visiting the garage where he ran his business, Hunt said: "When you start as an entrepreneur you have big dreams. Then you suddenly find it is a daily grind just to stay alive, to pay your bills to pay your staff, to fight off your competitors. It is not easy, you've got to show leadership, negotiating skills and confidence."


Hunt has pledged to reduce corporation tax to 12.5%. Speaking on the Andrew Marr Show he said: "I am raring to go to turn our economy into the fastest growing, most high-tech, greenest, most pro-business economy in Europe.

The biggest, most expensive pledge I have made would be to cut corporation tax to Irish levels to turbocharge our economy. When you do that you can start to see how we could get our GDP growth rate up from 1.5% to maybe 3%, American levels.

"And that is the kind of exciting way we will find more money for public services and be able to cut taxes all the things Conservatives want to do but you need to have someone who's got a feel as to how we can really power up our economy and that's me."

Business rates

Hunt also said he intends to scrap business rates for 90% of retailers.

"It was once said Britain was a nation of shopkeepers but if we don't act this will no longer be the case," he said.

"Too many small businesses are being put out of business by tax bills they can't afford to pay. My blueprint will give a new lease of life to the British high street and give our hard-working local businesses an enormous cash boost."

The foreign secretary says his plans would remove rates from 5,000 businesses in Birmingham, 60,000 in Leeds, 2,000 in Newcastle, 8,000 in Manchester and 3,500 in Bristol.


Hunt said he would write off university tuition fee debts for anyone who starts a new business which employs more than 10 people for five years.

Speaking at a digital hustings, he said: "If we are to turbo-charge our economy and take advantage of Brexit, we need to back the young entrepreneurs who take risks and create jobs.

"I started my own business, I still use the lessons that experience taught me - focus, drive and the art of negotiation - every single day.

"I want more young people to have the confidence to take the decision to start their own business, so we create wealth and start thriving as a country again."


Hunt also said he backs the HS2 rail project linking Manchester, Crewe, Birmingham, Leeds and the East Midlands.

"Connecting the great cities of the north is crucial so that the original vision for the Northern Powerhouse, to create a single joined up market and labour force, becomes a reality,"  he commented. "It's also essential for rebalancing the economy so that it delivers for every one of us."


On Brexit, Hunt, who campaigned for Remain in the EU referendum, has said he believes there is scope for renegotiating with the European Union but he would back no deal "as a last resort".

Speaking in London on 1 July Hunt said he would outline a provisional "no deal Brexit budget" in early September and create a no deal "relief programme including a £6bn fund for funders. He would then give the EU three weeks to re-negotiate and decide by 30 September whether a new deal has a "realistic chance".

"If you're a sheep farmer in Shropshire or a fisherman in Peterhead I have a simple message for you," Hunt said. "I will mitigate the impact of a no-deal Brexit on you and step in to help smooth those short-term difficulties.

"If we could do it for the bankers in the financial crisis, we can do it for our fisherman, farmers and small businesses now."

Hunt has claimed that his entrepreneurial experience makes him the "best candidate" to negotiate a Brexit deal, telling the Sunday Times: "Doing deals is my bread and butter as someone who has set up their own business. I've taken risks."

In a BBC debate, he referenced a sheep farmer whose livelihood would be destroyed following a no deal and during a hustings in Birmingham, he also referenced a business employing 350 people which would be "wiped out" by "a 10% tariff on their products".

"There would be an economic impact of no deal," he said. "If that was only way to deliver Brexit, then I'm afraid we have to do that because that's what people voted for and we are a democracy first and foremost."

Boris Johnson

Johnson has a tricky relationship with many entrepreneurs after reportedly being overheard saying "f**k business" at a meeting. Despite this, he remains the bookmakers' favourite to become the new Conservative Party leader.

He was asked about the comment during a leadership hustings in Birmingham.

Johnson said: "I bitterly resent the way one stray remark to the Belgian ambassador, who was making the case that the UK would not be able to leave the European Union, I don't think that should be allowed to cloud what is I think pretty extraordinary record for a politician of sticking up for business at every conceivable opportunity.

"I was referring to very powerful lobby groups who wanted to have a particular type of exit from the European Union, or non-exit, that would not achieve the result we want. I am the most passionately pro-business Conservative politician you would hope to meet."

In a video to launch his leadership bid, the MP said there was a need to "lift everyone in the country" and "support the wealth creators and the businesses that make the investment possible".

As London mayor, he said it was his responsibility to create conditions for firms to "flourish" and speaking to the Evening Standard about his plans, he said: "You've got to stick up for wealth creation and the free market. But you've got to do that because that's the way to pay for the great infrastructure and the most needy in society."


Johnson has said he intends to cut income taxes for higher earners by increasing the 40p rate threshold from £50,000 to £80,000.


On transport, he told a private hustings in London: "I would like to be the prime minister who does for connectivity in the West Midlands and the Northern Powerhouse what I did for London, with Crossrail and with massive tube upgrades."

He said he intends to review the case building the HS2 rail line between London and Birmingham and suggested "re-profiling the spend" so that the Northern leg becomes priority.


On Brexit, Johnson has said the UK will leave the EU on 31 October "deal or no deal" and "come what may".

He told Radio 4: "We have to get out by October 31. It would be absolutely bizarre to signal at this stage that the UK government was willing once again to run up the white flag and delay again."

He has claimed the best way to get a deal with the EU is to "prepare for no deal" and that he intends to withhold the £39bn "divorce" payment the UK is due to give the EU until there was "greater clarity about the way forward".

Johnson said if a new deal is not agreed, he will ask the EU for a "standstill period" to negotiate a free trade deal.

He has also claimed that a General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, known as GATT 24, could ensure that the UK avoids tariffs for the next 10 years.

Like Hunt, Johnson has pledged to help the rural economy deal with a no deal Brexit. He said farmers "should be assured that we will support the rural community, with price support, efficiency payments, whatever".

{% include 'EN Portal - Poll' poll_name: 'Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt' %}

Dan Martin
Dan MartinDan Martin Content & Events
I'm a freelance content creator and event host who helps small businesses and the organisations that support them. I have 18 years of experience as a small business journalist having interviewed hundreds of entrepreneurs from billionaires like Sir Richard Branson to the founders behind brand new start-ups. I've worked for a range of leading small business publications and support groups, most recently as head of content at Enterprise Nation where I was responsible for the prolific output of content on the company's blog and social media. I'm based in Bristol where I run and host regular events with the local small business community and have strong connections to major business organisations in the south west region. In total, I've hosted over 50 events; from intimate meet-ups to conferences with an audience of hundreds including events for international brands like Facebook and Xero. I'm also a big fan of podcasts having hosted Enterprise Nation's Small Business Sessions as well as lots of online events including Facebook Live interviews, webinars and three live web chats from inside 10 Downing Street. With my partner, I co-run Lifestyle District, a lifestyle blog focused on culture, art, theatre and photography. I'm here to help. I'm volunteering free advice calls of up to an hour as part of the Recovery Advice for Business scheme, over the next 6 months. Please get in touch to see how I can help your business. 

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