While our minority government struggles to survive, not surprisingly its attentions seem focussed on its own navel. Meanwhile, the country it is charged with serving is left to get on with things – so it’s business as usual.
British businesses, particularly SMEs, are used to that.
But this calm (amongst the business community not the government) comes before a potential storm; an inevitable result of the almighty Brexit shaped rock we dropped into our own pond. Forgive the poetic metaphor(s) but it’s a useful analogy for our situation.
Customs union or no customs union? Single market access or no access at all, or something in between? It all seems up in the air right now and none of us has any idea what’s going on behind the scenes. How many of us has time to care, let alone think about it? And what will the end result be? Well, you pay your money and take your choice. The truth is, no-one really knows, or do they?
For what it’s worth, I think that common sense will prevail and that an agreement that looks pretty much like the one we already have will emerge. Why? Because it is in everyone’s interests, Europe’s and ours, and the powers-that-be know it. Simple as that. It seems to be the way politics and politicians work; path of least resistance.
From the EU’s point of view, it’s the free movement of people that seems to be a sticking point, because it’s a point of principle. From the UK’s, it’s protecting our borders and limiting the unlimited immigration that potentially comes with EU membership; opposing views of the same point.
In fact (please correct me if I am wrong), the four pillars of EU membership are the free movement of goods, services, capital and labour. Labour not people, and that significant nuance provides the common ground on which a deal with the EU can (and probably will) be made.
From a technical point of view, we will probably be out of the customs union to allow us the freedom to negotiate our own trade deals with markets around the world; a stated objective of the government and the upside of leaving the EU. But that is just a technicality. The terms of any agreement between the EU and the UK could easily include the necessary trading conditions (e.g. zero tariffs) that would allow us to effectively operate as if in the customs union. As for the single market, well that’s just a market. If we can sell to them then they can sell to us. Done deal.
There is of course an elephant in the room; the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. Border control in 95% of the country is meaningless if the other 5% is an open door. The idea of imposing a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland is near impossible to conceive now. Stalemate? Perhaps not, according to Dr Ray Bassett, former Irish Diplomat, political commentator and lecturer on conflict resolution. He has floated the idea of Ireland leaving the EU as a means of maintaining an open border with the UK, by far its most important trading partner. It’s an idea that is gaining traction in Ireland and makes a lot of sense when you think about it, economically, politically and socially. Something for the EU to think about anyway.
Meanwhile, David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, has told the House of Commons that Britain is now “outward looking, confident, and has its best days still to come”. But that only makes sense if, irrespective of any agreement made with the EU, we manage to market our products and services to the global market we now hear mentioned so often, and not just the EU market we are at such pains to retain.
Unfortunately, we have not been too good at doing that. There are success stories, and UK Export Finance case studies gives some good examples, though they tend to be larger companies. As the lavish ‘demand is out there’ TV campaign indicates, it’s our SMEs that need motivating and supporting if the government’s objectives and the nation’s post EU destiny is to be fulfilled. Of course, those companies that try and succeed always look good, but there are many who try and fail and a majority who do not try at all.
For David Davis’ ‘best days’ to materialise a great many more UK businesses need to try international trade, and succeed.
Negotiations between governments seems a million miles away from the day to day reality of individual businesses. The distance between policy makers and the ‘ordinary’ business people required to implement (i.e. live with) policies is too great. The Department for International Trade (DIT) attempts to bridge the gap with appointed agents and institutions it trusts to manage and distribute taxpayers’ funds intended to help individual businesses. But all too often those funds seem to evaporate in the process, on administrative costs, networking events and initiatives they concoct to create an illusion of effort and intent. But where are the results?
It’s time for a change of tack, a new idea and a real alternative for SMEs wanting (needing) hands-on help from business oriented, like-minded people. That’s why we started UKITS, a UK International Trade Service: not-for-profit help for SMEs wanting to turn their ambition into action; privately funded and independent of the government and its agents.
The UK has something of a breathing space i.e. about 18 months until we actually leave the EU. There’s no time to waste and we, as a nation and as individual businesses, must use wisely. What we need is less talking and more doing. It’s as simple as that. What the government needs to do is stop wasting money on a system of support that provides a gravy train for those involved in its distribution, and find ways of incentivising individual businesses with the equivalent of hard cash to go into those global markets.
If they do, UKITS is there to provide the expertise, hands-on help and project management needed to succeed (free of charge), and ensure value for money for taxpayers. If they don’t, UKITS is there to make sure every penny of our businesses’ budgets returns maximum value to them, with less talk and more action.
For further information about UKITS: