From an article co-authored by myself and the then Minister for Employment (now Home Secretary for the UK) published in CityAM newspaper.
Although we were on opposing sides of the Brexit debate, one the employment minister and the other an asset manager in London, there is one thing we are in absolute agreement on: Britain has opportunities ahead and there is a job to do to ensure the country becomes as great as it can be.
We have no time to waste imagining what might have been. It’s time to get on and seize the day.
We are not merely talking up Britain and reminding the world that the country is open for business: the UK has one of the most highly-skilled workforces in the world, opportunities for phenomenal growth from infrastructure to life sciences, the best research facilities, the greatest global brands, world-class business centres, and is one of the easiest places in the world to do business. We are highlighting the new opportunities that may be overlooked in the post-referendum vacuum.
First, if you’re an exporter or have the potential to export, you have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take advantage of an oversold pound to boost your sales globally. For Britain, a trading nation, a boost in our exports will help balance our trade deficit but more importantly will create new British exporters and increase the sales and profitability of existing ones. Importers will have higher costs imposed on them for a time, and it would be glib to say there will be productivity gains as a result, but that is the opportunity.
Of course we have to be mindful of employees and businesses concerned about uncertainty, but the best thing politicians can do now is to communicate a clear vision and plan of action, and the best thing businesses can do is to act on opportunities that have opened up in this new environment. The support that was available from government agencies before the vote still exists – please use it, whether as a member of the workforce or a business person.
Brexit must also be used to establish global trading connections with fast-growing markets to enhance our future prosperity. More than that, our liberal free trading instincts should see us become a confident and assertive proponent of global free trade in international fora such as the World Trade Organisation. We are already seeing our friends in the Anglosphere sending us positive messages on future trade deals, and it is clear that the US wants us at the front of the queue rather than the back. Leaving the EU presents opportunities to succeed in a globalising economy, and efforts to beef up our trade negotiation capability must be made to enable us to capitalise on them.
As a beacon of global free trade and enterprise, we should go into our negotiations with the EU with confidence that we can achieve fair terms of withdrawal. Securing a continuation of tariff-free trade between the countries of the EU and the UK should be the utmost priority for negotiators in Whitehall, Brussels and other capital cities across Europe. As the German equivalent of the CBI has made clear, trade is mutually beneficial and resentment over the UK’s withdrawal from the EU should not stand in the way of doing what is best for business and consumers.
The stock market falls will give those fortunate enough to be part of our shareholding democracy a chance to buy great British companies at a huge discount. There is no way our cash-rich international banks are suddenly worth 40 per cent less than they were a week ago. Time and again, patience favours the brave. Panic usually means overselling and an opportunity for those on the ball.
At the other end of the economic scale, if you’re disillusioned, fed up with limited opportunities, and yours was a protest vote, don’t forget all the government programmes for retraining and reskilling. Use them. The New Enterprise Allowance has seen 85,000 businesses launched by jobseekers since it was unveiled in 2011, for instance. And in the future, without EU prohibition on state subsidies, the government will be able to support businesses suffering from short-term decline with financial assistance.
In the wake of the vote, we are redoubling our efforts to bring more global investment into all parts of the United Kingdom by getting the message out around the world about the new opportunities emerging in Britain. If you’re an overseas investor, you’ve got a once-in-a-lifetime chance to invest in Britain at bargain prices because of the exchange rate. By investing here, you also tap into a hugely talented workforce, some incredible intellectual property, and facilities for world-class R&D.
Our vision is to make doing business in Britain easier than in any other country, creating more growth and more jobs. All sides of the debate know this is a worthy goal. And if you want to see this at work in its early stages, look at the positive comments in the Indian press about the prospects for a future trade deal with Britain outside the EU. India is one of the largest investors in Britain, and deepening our ties will hugely benefit both of our economies.
We need a calm, stable, open and balanced economy in which all sections of society share in our prosperity. To achieve this, both politicians and business must move forward with a common vision to make the most of the opportunities that are opening up for Britain outside the EU.