I have spent my life as a first-generation immigrant building businesses in the UK. For my entire career I have been an internationalist in favour of membership of the EU. I even got elected as a LibDem MEP for London in 2019, on a second referendum agenda. I was a gold card-carrying Remainer.
But I am also a pragmatist and democrat to my core, and deeply respect the traditions of the country which is home to my family. The British people made a choice in 2016. Six years later, being a “Remoaner” is neither an intellectually or emotionally reasonable position to be in if we truly want the UK to succeed.
What matters now is that we deliver on our potential as we emerge from the public health crisis, and the inevitable short-term challenges of supply chain and labour shortages.
We need to learn our lesson from business. Firstly, once you’ve made a decision – as with the Brexit referendum – past debates and battle lines must be buried in order to focus wholeheartedly on delivery.
Customers are all that count for the existence of a strong business, but it is your people and their skills which will give you competitive advantage over the long term.
Business must be able to sustain the community on which it depends. That means not relying on tax to drive corporate strategy. There will always be a lower tax regime, but in the end, to build the network of customers and employees to ensure success, businesses must be willing to pay a price. Businesses are a honeybee, not a locust.
On the basis of that, there are grounds for optimism for 2022. This country will not rejoin the EU for a generation at least. The EU will find its place in the world. It has a long way to go, in many foreign policy areas.
But the UK can stand on its own two feet. We work hard, and while productivity is a challenge our access to global finance is stronger than most. We produce unicorns – $1bn start-ups – more quickly than any other nation outside the US.
We have four of the world´s top 10 ranked universities. We are monetising the intellectual property from our exceptional academics better than in the past. Cambridge is the highest producer of tech investment per capita anywhere on the planet. We score better than the US on most educational standards. We are a magnet for immigrants, because we offer a culture which people all over the world wish to enjoy.
We are in a lively national dialogue on tax policy, with real challenges for public services, and tax on employment via National Insurance and corporation tax increases. But we don’t wish to compete directly with Dubai or Singapore, on their terms. We wish to compete on our terms. We are a different kind of society, and one in which I was lucky to be a first-generation immigrant, who experienced opportunities I could not imagine in my home country of India. London remains the world’s capital on so many measures. It’s for this reason it is the business base for so many people, including myself. I have operations in Europe and India and yet it is the UK that offers the most opportunities. The EU needs us as partners and we will at some point establish the supply chain links of the past.
We are a global trading nation which will compete with our EU friends occasionally to their discomfort as on the AUKUS submarine deal. That is our new model. There is no other way.