Nirj Deva is a Conservative MEP for South East England.
We are standing at the precipice of history, staring into the abyss of the unknown as the world around us changes. Across much of the Western world, financial collapse and social strife are the order of the day. Collectively, we face the critical challenge of our time in how we will react to an increasingly multi-polar world, in which large and small powers jockey to influence the course of global events in the twenty-first century.
How the United Kingdom meets those challenges will define how our country is able to compete in the future. The bonds of friendship, ties of trade and movement of our people across borders will decide whether we remain at the centre of global trade, or become a bit-part player on the fringes of the Atlantic Ocean.
First and foremost among these challenges will be how we relate to China and India, whose rapid rise as an economic powerhouses could, on one hand, be seen as a threat to British jobs and innovation…or as a tremendous opportunity for our businesses on the other. China and India’s success stands not as our challenge but as our opportunity; an opportunity to be seized, so that we in the UK can penetrate new markets, grasp new horizons and drive fresh wealth creation prospects.
Every time China and India increases their gross domestic products by 50 per cent, as they have over the last five years, it presents us with this very opportunity to export high value, quality British goods. Is it any surprise that it is European luxury cars, like BMW and Rolls-Royce Bentley that captivate the emerging wealth of China? How many workers across the United Kingdom – from the Thames Valley business parks in my consistency to the ArcelorMittal steel workers in Scunthorpe – now depend on Indian investment to keep their jobs alive?
Far from challenging the existing, post-war, international order, as some until recently feared, the China of the twenty-first century has been engaging, albeit slowly, with the global community. It is here that the UK must strive to help China cast off the traditional isolationist policies of the past and encourage a process of engagement. The chaotic and politically unstable India of my youth is a thing of the past. While bureaucracy still hampers the ability of businesses to thrive, currency is now king.
A large part of the United Kingdom’s ability to build lasting links with these two crucial markets will depend upon immigration and the ability of businesspeople, highly skilled graduates and those with simply a burning passion to work hard to settle on our shores. Family and business bonds, as I know myself, are a crucial factor in most business deals. Familiarity, when it comes to business, breeds content.
While valid concerns exist in the press about waves of poorer Romanian and Bulgarian citizens pouring into the UK from January onwards, we must not let this issue distract from the key issue of our time: securing economic growth. Ensuring that we have an immigration system that allows to continue to attract the brightest and best, rather than slamming down the sluice gates, is a crucial part of this strategy.
Controlled immigration into the UK makes sense, but targets and quotas shouldn’t become an albatross round our collective necks. The ambitious science graduate from Chennai or engineering major from Guangzhou shouldn’t be forced to settle in Germany, Canada or France because of the red-tape of our visa system, or because of undue political pressure from the court of public opinion.
The UK has always been a country that is welcoming of outsiders who went on to work hard and contribute to our country – Russian Jews in the 1880s, the ‘windrush’ Caribbean in the 1950s and my wife and I in the 1960s. Only a United Kingdom that welcomes those kind of people – and that type of investment in the future of our country – can truly claim to be “open for business”.