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Theresa May is "relaxed" about foreign ownership for British employers, according to the chair of her policy board

Mark Sands
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The Conservative Party Conference 2016 - Day One
Freeman was named chair of the Prime Minister's policy board in in July. (Source: Flickr/Policy Exchange)

Theresa May is “reasonably relaxed” on foreign ownership of British firms, according to the chair of her policy board.

Speaking at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham this morning, George Freeman said the Prime Minister’s focus on foreign investment will relate specifically to the future of businesses in Britain.

“The issue isn’t who owns it. The issue is what is their commitment to the UK,” Freeman said.

“We are reasonably relaxed about who owns it but we are interested in what their commitment here is.”

May backed the recent takeover of Cambridge-based Arm Holdings after Japanese telecoms group Softbank provided guarantees on jobs in the UK.

She has previously suggested that foreign takeovers of British firms would be weighed by Downing Street to see if they were in the national interest.

Freeman's comments are separate from the government's approach to critical national infrastructure, such as power generation, where foreign ownership faces new tests on security.

They came after the Prime Minister’s decision to explicitly reintroduce industrial strategy through the re-branding of the former department of Business, Innovation and Skills.

Emulating Olympic successes

And today, Freeman compared May’s plans to the UK’s recent Olympic success - Team GB placed second in the Olympic medals table at the Rio games this summer.

“Industrial strategy is us doing for our economic competitiveness what people in charge of British sport did for our Olympic effort.

“That didn’t just happen. UK Sport have embraced a strategy and the only thing that people understand is that we are second in the medal table,” Freeman said, noting in particular that the governing body was “not backing failure”, and instead focused on identifying talent for the next generation.

Central to government plans

Freeman said the plan would be central to the government’s plans in the aftermath of Brexit, equating it to a central ideology like Thatcherism, or the coalition government’s focus on rebuilding the economy, and he also criticised the previous Conservative majority government under David Cameron.

“The industrial strategy is about making sure that the people going down the Dog and Duck feel better and that they see there are opportunities for their children,” he said, describing it as the central purpose of May’s government.

“I just don’t think people have had that sense [of Cameron's focus] in the last 12 months.”

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