Britain's business secretary has brushed off calls for more support for UK PLC as he declared a "year of optimism" for the economy.
Kwasi Kwarteng told business leaders on Wednesday he was "very sorry" for the one month delay to 'Freedom Day' but said chief executives had cause for optimism as the UK headed down a path of reopening.
"I think there are three reasons why I think 2021 is a year of optimism, a year of hope," Kwarteng said in a keynote address at the British Chamber of Commerce (BCC)'s annual conference on Wednesday.
He listed progress on vaccines, the resolutions to Brexit, and the government's green agenda as reasons for optimism. Kwarteng said the economy had the opportunity to forge new ground as it bounced back from COVID-19.
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"We should lift our eyes to what lies ahead, we can't simply try and recapture what went before the pandemic," the business secretary said. "We've got to try and use this opportunity to reset our economy and have even greater ambitions than we've had in the past."
The comments come as businesses plead with the government for more financial support as COVID restrictions drag on. Prime minister Boris Johnson said on Monday that legal mandates on things like social distancing and masks would be extended by another month to late July.
The BCC has led calls for more support from government to help businesses through this extension. BCC president Ruby McGregor-Smith reiterated the call in her introductory remarks ahead of Kwarteng's speech.
Kwarteng, who was elevated to the Business department in January, brushed off calls for more support. He said the current moment was "fraught with difficulty" and called for businesses to be "patient".
"I'm very confident on the 19th of July we'll be able to open up. The prime minister has said very clearly we have to learn to live with COVID and that phrase suggests, I think, suggests we're going to have to live with it and get on with our normal lives."
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