This is a sponsored post by the UK Chamber of Shipping. The author, Guy Platten, is the Chamber’s CEO.
Shipping is an international, global industry. For those of us who work within it, it is an obvious thing to say. Ninety per cent of the world’s international trade is moved by sea. Every successful economy in the world engages in the import and export of goods. Trade is the vehicle that lifts countries out of extreme poverty and is the basis for the diplomatic, as well as economic relationships that have endured often for centuries.
And let’s be clear. We were a great maritime nation before the referendum vote. We are a great maritime nation now. And we will continue to be so long into the future. We know this because the UK is the shipping industry’s natural home. Its maritime experience and expertise has been forged not just over years, but over centuries. Its skills have been passed down over the generations in a way no rival maritime nation could hope to replicate.
This expertise is aided by time zone, the English language and common law. But it is also aided by our international workforce.
The English Premier League is the best in the world because it attracts the best players in the world. Shipping is no different. Many of the best shipping lawyers, financiers, insurers, brokers, managers and seafarers are British, but what makes our shipping industry world-class is that many of them hail from overseas, too. They complement, not detract from our homegrown talent. The ideas, energy, creativity and leadership of the British people combined with those of their international colleagues make us a true global maritime leader.
That is a good thing. And we can see it in our economy. 250,000 people work in the maritime services sector in this country – it is an industry that contributes £10 billion to GDP and pays £2.5 billion in tax. Eighty per cent of our maritime business services sales come from overseas.
Brexit poses challenges but it provides huge opportunities, too. We can make Brexit work, with a good trade deal with the EU and the ability to trade more easily with emerging markets, it can be a success. From a shipping point of view, the power to push for strong environmental and safety measures through our global regulator, the International Maritime Organisation, not merely regional European regulation, could speed up the industry’s already vastly improved record.
But we do not rediscover that global vocation, we do not reach out to the world and provide genuine global leadership if we turn our backs on those brilliant people from all countries and all backgrounds.
Access to the brightest and best people from elsewhere, combined with the incredible skills of the British people, is what will keep Britain great. That means the right to remain for EU citizens already here, and a steady flow of people who have not yet reached our shores.
We believe in globalism. We want this industry, and our country as a whole, to be a welcoming, nurturing place filled with opportunity wherever someone happens to have been born. We understand therefore that the notion of a points-based system that judges people on what they have to offer, not where they are from, may sound attractive. But in all the political debate and marketing of the policy, no one has given thought to the immense bureaucracy that will be needed to administrate it. The vast expense, the training, the processes and procedures that will have to be created will be mind-boggling. We know from our own experience the costly delays in being able to recruit non-EU citizens as it is. In the absence of a proper plan, extending that to cover EU citizens will make things worse, not better, and could limit the significant opportunities Brexit may provide.
I understand the issue of immigration is a hot topic, and whilst on rare occasions it can result in deeply unpleasant attitudes from a small minority, concerns over the volume of immigration can be legitimate and are usually honestly held. But as a country, in order to make Brexit work, we have to be at our smart and pragmatic best. Restricting our access to the EU’s best talent, or replacing the existing regime with a system that sounds attractive on paper but would in reality be bureaucratic, sclerotic and counter-productive, does not fill that brief.
But there is something less specific I’d like politicians and economists alike to consider. The economy is heavily dependent on confidence. Investment decisions are dependent on confidence. Recruitment is dependent on confidence. That confidence is informed by the rhetoric of politicians and the mood they help to create. Whichever side you were on, you could find evidence to support your position in the economic data being released. Put it aside. The campaign is over. The phrase ‘we are in this together’ is more apt today than it was after the crash. We acknowledge the risks and uncertainty, but fundamentally we believe the UK can succeed outside of the European Union, and the UK’s world-leading shipping industry will be with you every step of the way.