What must we do now post-Brexit?

As one technology Founder of many in the UK, a vote to leave the EU was not what we wanted, yet as entrepreneurs our task now is to find opportunity from the situation. If you’re a British national, indeed it is your responsibility.

After a painful post-War slide into depression (both economic and psychological) we have spent most of our own lifetime dragging the country’s economy, from public transport to bad 1980’s restaurant food, back to prosperity. Along with that has come a new sense of pride in what we can achieve and a glimpse of the confidence our forebears had – the leaders of the world’s Industrial Revolution.

The Victorian era championed Great Britain – and British values – while taking an outward looking, global and free-trade approach, albeit one akin to the times of Empire and gunboat diplomacy.

The Opening of the Great Industrial Exhibition of All Nations (London, 1851)

The Opening of the Great Industrial Exhibition of All Nations (London, 1851)

Our obligation now as their modern contemporaries, the leaders of a digital revolution, is to embrace this new challenge. Great Britain must not spin its wheels and risk sliding back in to the woe is us national unconsciousness of before, licking our self-inflicted wounds. We must waste no time in getting on with the job and uniting behind making the best of a bad job, something the British are renowned at doing!

With one of the world’s largest GDPs, we must fight hard to maintain our own confidence, find the positive in a result that none of us asked for. If we don’t we risk leaving our immediate future in the hands of the small-minded few, the baton-up-the-hatches brigade. The older demographic who have voted for this situation, too young to remember the glory of Empire but all too familiar with a bankrupt post-Empire nation and repeated humiliation at the French blocking our entry to the EEC in 1963 and 1967 (a rather ungrateful act for a President we put in power!), they don’t understand the realities of a globally interconnected world in an age of information ubiquity.

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The Remain campaign failed miserably to acknowledge the failings of today’s EU, nor articulate a positive vision for the future. The Brexit campaign focused on the red herring of immigration, taking advantage of the failure of successive UK governments to lead a proper debate or make a proper case, leaving many paranoid and fearful.

We must all now focus our efforts on promoting this opportunity, to drown out the talk of local X with a positive dialogue of how to improve our international position. That means:

  1. Finally tackling immigration head on. We must not allow the xenophobes to dictate policy but coming up with a better process to enable those who can help build our economy in, including progressive Entrepreneur’s VISAs; to know who is coming in and who is not (something an island should find easy!) to give naysayers confidence we have control of our own borders; of embracing true political and war torn refugees.
  2. Be confident even though we don’t feel it. As business owners we know that smoke and mirrors play a part in selling a product or raising investment. Presenting an optimistic but realistic narrative about how we’re changing the future and why someone should invest in our startups. This country is no different. We must continue to attract investment, we must talk a better game than we did in the debate and win the confidence of the international economy.
  3. Think Big. The risk you take in business should be proportional to the reward. We must articulate a vision for Great Britain which is not just positive but worthy of attention. As a startup investor I’m not interested in investing time, emotionally energy and money in companies who are not attempting to transform a market, to dominate their space. We must do the same for this country, and elect leadership who can articulate a goal based upon which decisions can be made, trade deals negotiated and policy crafted. A vision is needed behind which the country can unite.

In short, as a smaller nation than the EU as a whole, and without the shackles of having to compromise to the lowest common denominator, learning to move more quickly on policy and procedure is a prerequisite for our success. Estonia is a country of 1.5m which, with it’s digital mobile voting, digital e-citizenship and disproportionate entrepreneurial impact on the European tech ecosystem, has prove that smaller can indeed mean faster, learner and more successful. Maybe the UK should vote in a Prime Minister who can code, like Toomas Hendrik Ilves?

Anything is possible; no one knows what a renegotiation or a recreation of Great Britain’s relationship with Europe will look like.

One thing is for sure though, as the Liberal majority we’ve failed to quell the misguided rhetoric of the Brexit charlatans. We must not now let them dictate policy going forward and instead we have to dominate the conversation and make it one of opportunity, a chance to do things better, and of open borders to the World.

 

How Britain Is Seen From The Outside, ‘init.

I had the pleasure of attending my first Arete Club dinner last Friday, where the topic under discussion was “How is Britain perceived by the rest of the world?” certainly to my mind a timely subject ripe for debate.

Britain remains sometimes schizophrenic in its approach to the outside world. We maintain a veneer of global power broking thanks to pivotal roles in modern history, a legacy of Empire, our native English speaking tongue, London being a global financial centre and an experienced foreign office and diplomatic service (what’s left of it).

We are still an independent nuclear power and, despite the drastic cuts in our Armed Forces, still maintain a more professional and capable army, airforce and navy than most other countries; but the vacuum of meaning created by our decline as an Imperial world power remains. By this, I’m arguing that until the 1950’s our role in the world was clear. Even during the Cold War, a position as an Atlantic bridge and European protector against the Soviet menace provided some level of direction for foreign policy and excuse for defense spending.

Today, with the imminent Communist threat dissipated, where does Britain’s future lie? Are we the bridge for Europe to our American cousins? Should we continue to try and project power and police problem countries outside Europe? With higher levels of mostly well(and some not so well)-integrated immigrants providing a richer cultural landscape, what does being a Briton mean? Colour, race and creed these days do not define Britain. So what does and does this bear any resemblance to how those outside view us?

The dinner speakers tasked with stimulating discussion around this theme, did not disappoint.

First up was Roddy Gow who gave a polished and highly educational talk on the way Britain is seen in Asia, specifically India. Current affairs communicated eloquently in context of history always delivers a rich and engaging speech; Roddy Gow did not disappoint.

An image of Britain and indeed it's Empire, long gone. How are we perceived now?

Sadly I can’t write specifically about what was said, as the events are held under Arete rules in order to precipitate honest and candid debate – another reason why attending an Arete dinner can be a unique experience.

Events are black tie and usually held in salubrious surroundings. With good wine and good food fuelling the invited guests, between each course the speakers take the floor, propped up by their dining chair as lectern.

Our intellectual main course was Minister Qin Gang from the Chinese Embassy. He spoke candidly and passionately. Inevitably some of what was said you might expect to hear during a formal press conference – the Minister is after all a member of the Chinese Government and consequently – just as our own government ministers – he is expected therefore to speak bearing in mind his formal capacity.

Minister Qin Gang also brought though a personal perspective to his own experiences living and working in London as native Chinese and highlighted some of the challenges that two different cultures can face, living and communicating in our complex globalised world.

Ziauddin Sardar was reserved the honour of “being the pudding” as he so eloquently noted (I asked him specifically if we could use that quote!) and gave a very informed and often humorous talk on straddling two cultural origins, being both British and Pakistani. Many of the topics are covered in his recently published book, “Reading the Qur’an”, which I’ll be adding to my reading list.

Our current circumstances, immigration, the make up our society and what people think of us around the world are as a direct consequence of the Empire Britain once commanded

 

Over coffee we had the honour of questioning our speakers; for me this was the highlight of the dinner. It produced enlightened and engaged debate between the speakers, ably chaired by Professor Stephen Chan who was a pitch perfect ringmaster for the evening. Before drinks, Arete’s founder Sara Fazlali rounded off with an insightful and humorous summary.

There are many networking dinner events out there, but Arete Club does much more than provide wine-fuelled matchmaking. First, it combines people from disparate sectors (business, politics, the military and the arts – indeed this idea was a cornerstone of Arete Club’s inception) and second, does so in a way that challenges dinner guests to think about something beyond swapping business cards.

In summary, I enjoyed an excellent dinner and then drinks in the most stimulating of company. I discussed global politique with a senior Chinese Communist party minister, the global challenges facing our Armed Forces with a Royal Navy Lieutenant Commander and with a Canadian journalist the stubborn hangover bequeathed by a loss of the British Empire.

I will certainly be returning for seconds in the months to come.

You can read more about Arete Club here.