Saqib Bhatti is MP for Meriden.
Tonight marks a new future for the UK, as we fulfill the promise every Conservative MP made in the election campaign to leave the European Union. This milestone allows us to look ahead and fully focus on the opportunities that Brexit will bring: strengthening ties with partners around the world and investing in future growth.
As someone who has run a business, and also led the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce, I wholeheartedly support the Prime Minister’s commitment to ‘level up’ the UK to ensure that every corner of the country benefits from economic growth post-Brexit. And this message of ‘levelling up’ need not be constrained to the UK – Brexit will allow Britain to look beyond Europe to build and establish new trading relationships across the globe.
The first and foremost opportunity ahead of us is that offered by the Commonwealth – an important institution for our future free trade agreements which boasts thriving markets. Three of the five fastest growing economies in the world are members of the Commonwealth, meaning more potential customers, suppliers and partners for UK business.
We should be confident that there are huge opportunities outside the borders of the EU which the UK is well-placed to take advantage of, thanks to its status as a world-leading regulator and market creator. For investors, open, transparent and stable trading environments are the building blocks of leading financial markets, which is why the UK has continued to receive votes of confidence and inward investment since the referendum. Innovation in regulation and governance has been led by Britain, creating an environment where businesses and investors thrive.
Remember, we were told that Brexit would prompt an exodus of jobs from the UK to European capitals such as Paris, with estimates ranging from 30,000 to 75,000. These claims have proven to be completely unfounded, with EY calculating that only a thousand banking jobs have moved to the continent since the vote to leave the EU. Whilst much of the UK’s attractiveness is due to our pro-business environment and competitive tax system, it is also because Britain’s regulatory regime is seen as far more predictable and trustworthy by international firms compared to those on the continent.
Take the AMF – the French financial markets regulator – which is often seen as imposing protectionist policies, and unwelcoming to not only investors but even journalists who cover them. Last year, it fined Bloomberg News €5 million for publishing an article about French company Vinci based on an incorrect press release – an article retracted within half an hour of publication. Bloomberg argued that the fine was unprecedented, disproportionate and ‘risked seriously undermining the liberty of the press.’
But such actions by the AMF are not a one-off. The regulator led a four-year investigation into investment firm Muddy Waters for daring to question the accounting practices of French retailer Casino. These charges were eventually dropped, leaving Muddy Waters to criticise France as ‘an unwelcoming place for investors who are also whistle-blowers’. Looking forward, the French Government is about to introduce new regulations which will make it more difficult for overseas firms to invest in what it deems to be sectors of “strategic importance” such as Artificial Intelligence.
This unpredictable behaviour from regulators sends alarm bells ringing in those firms considering operations in France. There has been much talk from Paris about overtaking London as Europe’s financial centre, but such a hostile approach to market activity from the AMF only weakens this ambition. Indeed, it’s no wonder that UN trade data shows the UK has retained its position as the top destination in Europe for FDI, with inward investment into Britain by the end of 2018 worth $1.89 trillion (£1.48 trillion), more than Germany ($939 billion) and France ($825 billion) combined.
So if we are to attract investment from our Commonwealth partners and forge new trading links, the UK must maintain our pro-enterprise agenda to cement our status as being a place where both businesses and investors can thrive. This will set ourselves apart from regulatory regimes on the continent that are becoming more insular by placing greater burdens and restrictions on businesses, and which could well influence the future direction of EU-wide regulations. Falling into the trap of becoming too interventionist, like the AMF, will only serve to do more harm than good in the long run. By becoming a champion of free trade and a reliable friend to business, this Conservative Government can harness Brexit to truly unleash Britain’s potential.