Britain’s hostility to business is astonishing

One of the many remarkable outcomes of the Brexit debacle is the disdain displayed towards the business community by the UK political establishment, writes Joe Gill.

It seems as if every warning from significant employers and their representatives is treated with contempt in the populist rush to leave the European Union.

This animosity is odd in a society built, over the past 100 years, primarily on investment from the private sector.

Britain’s industry forged companies that could innovate, compete, and expand across international markets. They committed significant sums of capital and engaged in large-scale job creation to support their strategies.

Over time, however, the ownership of the private sector in the UK has changed dramatically.

Whereas UK shareholders owned the vast bulk of private companies a century ago, today, enterprise on the ground in Britain is dominated by companies owned outside of it.

It now seems as if the voices representing that enterprise are unwelcome more because of who they are than what they are communicating.

It looks like a case of shooting the messenger rather than hearing the message.

Hence, a German chief executive of Europe’s largest aerospace company, Airbus, issuing reasonable warnings about his level of investment in the UK, is met with Second World War quips. Japanese comments about car-making are responded to with references to whaling.

God love any Irish man or woman having the temerity to comment on British industry.

This risible behaviour is occurring at a time when long-term strategic investment in the UK is being weighed up.

If you are deciding on investments worth hundreds of millions of pounds, which rely on long-term confidence in UK support for business, how should you consider the current situation?

The commitment to be at the heart of the EU marketplace has been shredded.

A hard-negotiated agreement between the sovereign UK government and 27 others has been unilaterally binned by the British.

Against this backdrop, why should corporations like Airbus and Nissan not be reconsidering their long-term investments in the UK?

What the headline-grabbing Brexiteers are responding to are only those few business chiefs who have had the stomach to put their heads above the parapet. There are many more who think the same, but say little in public.

Moreover, a huge number of companies are growing and developing around the world that are determined to establish a presence in Europe.

Can you imagine how these are thinking about the circus in London?

All of this will be compared and contrasted with how the Irish establishment engages with business.

Too many times over the decades, Ireland has aped what goes on in the UK.

We are doing that with health, currently, and labour unions, too, have often adopted the practices that were more at home in early 20th century Britain than in 2019.

Hopefully, a more constructive engagement is now underway.

That contract should exchange the creation of well-paid, long-term employment for an environment that welcomes investment and which provides a stable set of rules and regulations that are not subject to extreme political volatility.

The latter is what now defines politics in the UK and elements of it have broken out, too, in continental Europe and the US.

Those voices are too often attached to a narrative that contains large dollops of racism, nativism, and jingoism.

Is it possible, amid all this, that Ireland could provide a beacon of rationality that rejects a worldview anchored in a misty-eyed nostalgia for the 19th century, when gunboats and white people felt entitled to control everything?

- Joe Gill is director of origination and corporate broking with Goodbody Stockbrokers. His views are personal.

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