Peter Thiel, founder of two billion dollar companies (Palantir and Paypal) and early-stage investor in Facebook, argues that two questions determine your approach to life’s challenges. First, are you an optimist or a pessimist? Second, are you definite (a clear plan for the future) or indefinite (hedging your bets)?
In sharp contrast to the focus and energy I see in Asia and Africa, Europe risks sinking into indefinite pessimism. I want to reassure everyone, especially those working in the technology industry and start-ups, that Britain will reject not reflect this defeatism after we leave the EU. We should go forward as definite optimists, making London the best place in the world to start and grow a business and Britain the world’s leading country for technology, education and science.
First, we will maintain or even strengthen our existing competitive advantages. The EU immigrants who have made London their home are more welcome than ever to continue enriching our economy and society. London’s cultural and social environment remains an unparalleled draw for talented entrepreneurs and employees. Five of the world’s top 20 universities are in or within an hour of our city, the greatest concentration of academic excellence on earth. Britain speaks the world’s language, shares its most common legal code, and is a byword for quality in professional services, education, science and innovation.
Second, I am optimistic that we can overcome the challenges Brexit presents. Britain’s continuing access to the Single Market is in the interests of investors, business and governments across Europe. It is essential that tech and other businesses work with firms from Sweden to Cyprus to shape a deal that maximises trade and minimises bureaucracy. In this, the eminently pragmatic Angela Merkel will prove Britain’s greatest ally.
Third, we can take advantage of the opportunities leaving the EU creates. On immigration, existing UK policy toward talented immigrants and students from outside the EU has sapped much-needed revenue from our universities and skills from our economy. We can use the political room created by controlling unskilled immigration from the EU to offer more highly-skilled work and study visas, focused on science and technology.
On regulations, we can review the EU rules on net neutrality and data protection that have drawn widespread criticism. We can embolden the campaign of Julia Reda MEP to save the hyperlink in Europe by making clear that it will be free of intellectual property regulation in Britain. We can change the VATMOSS rules so that Ghost is the last start-up to flee to Asia, and look at how to change the tax system to encourage an investment climate as vibrant as Silicon Valley’s.
On trade, we can now pursue agreements with dynamic economies of the future and focus them on the UK’s interests. Agreements with Canada and Australia will no longer be held up by Italy or Romania. Deals with Sub-Saharan African nations can focus on the mutual opportunities from removing barriers to the booming tech sectors in Cape Town, Nairobi and Lagos without worrying about how cheaper food threatens French farmers.
Seizing these opportunities will require bold leadership. I am therefore delighted Michael Gove is standing to succeed David Cameron. I have seen at first-hand his formidable intelligence and firm principle in tackling vested interests to pass successful reforms. He knows the importance of technology and science to our future, having introduced coding in primary schools and increased the rigour and take-up of STEM subjects while education secretary. He believes passionately that government should provide the right conditions for entrepreneurs and scientists to build the future, hence his stated support for increasing R&D funding and building a DARPA style innovation incubator for Britain.
Whoever becomes our next Prime Minister, though, I am confident that London will continue to attract the very brightest minds and ideas, and be a vibrant cultural and economic hub for the world. We can therefore look forward with definite optimism and begin building a better future.