Today, we assume our positions leading Britain’s £40bn maritime sector and count ourselves among its 1,000,000 employees.
Britain is an island, a maritime nation, and our sector fuels trade with the rest of the world – some 95 per cent of imports and exports, worth over £500bn.
For almost three years, national debate has been focused on the intricacies of our relationship with the European Union. Brexit as a process has proved divisive for the nation and the government. The uncertainties to which it has given rise have been damaging to the British economy and to business.
Now that we have a withdrawal deal on the table, MPs should give it their support so that we can move on and look beyond, to the future opportunities that wait for our country.
The UK has long pioneered technological advancements and solutions to some of the world’s toughest challenges. The drive for progress is something inherent in British people – it was that same drive that led to the telephone, the world wide web, the smallpox vaccine, and the gas turbine, to name but a few of our inventions.
British ideas have changed the lives of people across the world for the better, and we should be ambitious to do so again and again.
British global leadership continues today in our own sector, where innovation is transforming marine automation.
Maritime faces huge challenges that create monumental opportunities for our country – such as the decarbonisation of shipping. If we face these challenges head-on, the potential rewards are sizeable, with the government estimating the value of the global ocean economy at $3 trillion by 2030. That’s some prize.
To achieve it, we must ensure that Britain offers good jobs and greater earning power for all, and that we are equipped with the skills needed to prosper from the changing technological landscape.
Britain is globally regarded for its “soft skills”, and this strength provides real potential for growth, not least in helping countries around the world develop their own talent.
We must also strive to make our workforce more diverse – not just because it’s the right thing to do, but so that our businesses can capture the diversity of talent and thought found right across the country. We are proud that our industry has launched the Women in Maritime programme, and that work must continue apace.
The Brexit process has driven a heightened awareness of Britain’s role as a trading nation, and exports are up. To ensure that we can continue to succeed, our ports need to be connected efficiently to our major population and manufacturing centres.
We must think creatively and ambitiously about the infrastructure our country needs – both physical and digital. Working together, industry and government should drive a major upgrade in our infrastructure.
We are rightly proud of the UK’s credentials as a place to do business, but competitor countries are relentless in their bid to attract our business to their shores. We should be vigilant that the UK is remains one of the best places to start and grow a business, and that we continue to attract and retain global business on our shores.
But we should also champion our inherent strengths – time zone, language, culture, ease of doing business and lifestyle. We’re often too afraid to truly bang the drum for Britain – that needs to change.
Beyond Brexit, we also have a significant opportunity to ensure that growth is regionally balanced, not just because all parts of our country deserve to move forward, but because different regions offer unique opportunities for businesses and investors.
Nowhere is that truer than in our coastal communities. Division generated throughout the Brexit process needs to be resolved, and truly national and inclusive growth will play a major part in bridging the gap we’ve seen grow over the past three years.
We should be proud of Britain’s well-earned reputation as a pragmatic and diplomatic player in global affairs, championing the rules-based order. Those qualities are needed more than ever today, and beyond Brexit, we can get back to fully playing our part.
One constant runs through all of this: collaboration. Working on the detail of Brexit planning has brought industry and government much closer together, and that closer working relationship should be capitalised upon to deliver prosperity beyond Brexit. Working hand-in-glove, together we will achieve more than we could alone.
For three years, national life has been dominated by the detail of Brexit negotiations. Now, we at last have the opportunity to look beyond Brexit to the tremendous opportunities that wait.
Let’s agree the withdrawal agreement and accelerate work in realising this potential. There is no time to waste.