UK Business Secretary Greg Clark has said that the British Government is seeking neither a hard Brexit nor a soft Brexit but rather a “smart Brexit.”
The Rt Hon Greg Clark MP, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy made the remarks in a keynote speech at the Asia House Asian Business Leaders Award dinner at Banqueting House on Tuesday 1 November. Later in the evening Mr Clark presented Hiroaki Nakanishi, Chairman of the Board, Representative Executive Officer, Hitachi, Ltd.,with the prestigious annual award.
Speaking to an audience of more than 300 dignitaries including notable global business leaders and diplomats, Mr Clark said that the so-called divisions on Brexit were not as deep as sometimes portrayed.
He said: “In June, the country voted to leave the European Union – and the democratic will of the British people must be respected. Nevertheless we are determined to maintain the closest possible trading arrangements with the rest of Europe. Furthermore, throughout the process of negotiating those arrangements and agreements, we will represent the interests of British business – and of the global businesses that invest in Britain.”
“So, does this argue in favour of hard or soft Brexit? Well, the answer is neither. The only way forward is a smart Brexit,” he stated.
The Rt Hon Greg Clark MP chats to Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint at the Asian Business Leaders Award function. Photo by Andy Tyler
Mr Clark told the audience that he had campaigned on the remain side of the referendum.
But during that time he had met very few people who were 100 per cent for remain or 100 per cent for leave in the country.
“For most people it was a question of balance. Of acknowledging both the advantages and disadvantages of our membership of the European Union and deciding which outweighed the other,” he said.
In the end the national balance tipped in favour of leave. What the UK needed now was “not another polarised debate” but a united effort to maximise the advantages and minimise the disadvantages of the new position, he said.
“This is achievable,” he said.
He then outlined what he meant by a smart Brexit.
“Negotiating a new relationship with the EU is a complex process, but the underlying principle of every successful agreement is simple. And that is mutual advantage. The whole point of trade is not to produce winners on one side and losers on another, but benefits on both sides. That is the smart way – anything else is the opposite.
“So to talk of punishment, for example, falls into the trap of seeing trade as a weapon. It also sets a terrible example in a world where smaller nations need to coexist with their larger neighbours and vice versa,” he explained.
He said there were benefits to be had in “differentiation from larger economic areas” and that diversity between or within nations should be seen as “an opportunity not as a threat”.
“Economies that have the freedom and agility to specialise and innovate have an important role to play in the wider global economy – especially when the fruits of experimentation can be shared through free trade,” he said.
“And also through the understanding that can be gained when different places try different solutions to common challenges,” he added.
Mr Clark said Brexit should not be regarded as an opportunity to “undercut our neighbours by lowering our standards.”
He explained: “For instance, by weakening workers’ rights or environmental protection.
“Of course, all nations need to bear down on the unnecessary burdens of doing business, pointless regulation, punitive taxation and protectionist trade barriers,” he said.
“Yet there is a point at which the call for lower costs could become a call for lower standards. This is a path we must resist,” he stated.
The Rt Hon Greg Clark MP, UK Business Secretary, left, chats to Hiroaki Nakanishi, Chairman of the Board, Representative Executive Officer, Hitachi, Ltd., centre and The Rt Hon Carwyn Jones, First Minister of Wales, right, before the dinner. Photo by Andy Tyler
Ahead of presenting the Asia House Asian Business Leaders Award to Mr Nakanishi, he praised him for his “remarkable leadership and “boldness of vision.”
“A business is nothing without consumers and Hitachi has turned the world to find them,” he said. “It has gone to where the growth is. The British economy must have a global growth strategy too – and it will and this must and will include an Asian growth strategy,” he added.
“We build on deep foundations – decades of industrial cooperation between Britain and Asia. I would like to reiterate my country’s gratitude to Nakanishi-san for his own invaluable contribution to building up those links.”
UK Business Secretary Greg Clark presents the Asia House Asian Business Leaders Award for 2016 to Hitachi Chairman Hiroaki Nakanishi. Photo by Miles Willis
He then referred to the “very important investments” that Hitachi was making in the UK economy, which include a 30 acre train manufacturing facility at Newton Aycliffe in County Durham and the proposed nuclear power station at Wylfa on Anglesey.
“It is thanks to projects like these that Japan is now the second biggest source of foreign investment in the UK,” he said.
“However it is the quality and not just the quantity of that investment that stands out.”
He highlighted Nissan’s recent decision to produce the Qashqai and the new X-Trail in Sunderland, despite the Brexit vote, as another example of close Japan-UK ties.
Mr Clark was appointed as the Secretary of State for the new Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in July.
He told the audience of High Commissioners, Ambassadors, diplomatic officials and world business leaders: “The British Government is committed to an industrial strategy. It will be founded on an acknowledgment that to succeed we need to upgrade the sources of our competitiveness.”
He said for an advanced economy the ultimate guarantee of competitiveness was to do what no one else could do better or could do at all. He gave as an example the global reputation of London’s financial services – putting that down to the knowhow in London, rather than the fact London was low-cost.
He said Britain’s economy was underpinned by a world class science and research base, leading edge industrial sectors, a skilled and productive workforce, strong self-confident communities and resilient, adaptable infrastructure.
He said Britain needed to focus on upgrading low productivity in some parts of the country.
“If we don’t upgrade skills, knowledge and infrastructure in every community, then the most vulnerable will lose their ability to connect and contribute to local and national economies. That is why the process of upgrading our economy through our industrial strategy needs to be continuous – so that we keep up with other nations, but also consistent – so that we remain one nation,” he said.
“If this is a local industrial strategy for Britain, it is also global, ” he said.
“To disregard Asia is to ignore most of the world,” he stated. “After all Asia is where most of the world works and lives,” he said.
For understandable reasons, British politics has been focused on Europe this year, he pointed out. “Next week, our eyes will be glued on America.
“But as important as these places and their people are, let’s not forget that the larger part of humanity is Asian. That is why the work of Asia House is of such value. Your mission to promote engagement between Europe and Asia is always relevant – and becomes more so with each passing year,” he said.
“At a time when powerful forces seek to sow mistrust between nations and cultures, it is vital that we demonstrate what openness and trust can achieve. The world must not be divided between rival trading blocks. So let us continue to draw East and West together,” he concluded.
Watch a slideshow of the event below:-
To read what Hitachi Chairman Hiroaki Nakanishi said in his acceptance speech at the Asian Business Leaders Award click here.
To read more coverage of this year’s Asia House Asian Business Leaders Award dinner at Banqueting House click here.