This article was first published in Reaction
Brexit has become bogged down in a wearying war of attrition at Westminster, in the City, and across the country. It is damaging the relationship between Britain and our allies. While the referendum campaign sowed the seeds of division and mistrust across the generations, communities and regions, these seeds of division are now blossoming. There is increasing rancour and acrimony. Relationships between government and many parts of society are creaking under the strain, with mutual incomprehension beginning to become normalised to an unhealthy extent. This is a situation that cannot be allowed to persist.
The dominant issue in the Brexit discussions revolves around business and trade. Ministers are increasingly dismissive of and frustrated by businesses apparent reluctance to embrace the, as they see it, huge new opportunities that Brexit presents. The break down in the relationship between the Conservative government and many parts of business has been a long time in the coming, and has been hugely exacerbated by the advent of Brexit. Mighty as the City is it is not the whole of British business. There are many other parts of British business, all across the country, which are marginalised in the current discussion.
The business voice needs to be heard, and heard clearly, in the Brexit discussions. At Westminster, across party lines, there has developed an aggressive and increasingly hostile attitude to business. British business has not always been its own best advocate in the public debate – but it is business and enterprise that generates wealth, jobs, investment and tax revenue. No politician can raise and spend money on any school, hospital, doctor, nurse, firefighter or police officer, without first business, in some form, generating the income from which the government can take a share. There is a certain air of unreality in Westminster and across Whitehall in its approach to business.
The UK’s persistent and deeply rooted productivity challenge needs addressing urgently. Government needs to provide effective leadership and robust policy measures. It should do this by working closely with business to tackle the challenge at its root causes. As a nation we are employing more people to produce stuff at a slower rate than our international competitors. It is an unsustainable position.
But membership of the European Union has always been more than simply a matter of commerce. It has also been about diplomacy, politics, culture, education, art, heritage, identity, and experience. The majority of the senior leaders across the private, public and voluntary sectors required to deliver and lead their organisations through this great transitional period will have been “remainers”. Yes, there is huge institutional resistance to Brexit and a deep-seated resentment of it. But one of the greatest failures of those who led the Leave campaign, and who are now in government, is their complete failure to offer a new, positive and compelling vision of how Britain can and will thrive in a post Brexit world.
What is needed to deal with all of this is a politician who can articulate a coherent and positive vision, who draws the country back together, who can raise the country’s eyes to the future, who understands the need to stop finding wedge issues to drive communities apart, and instead identifies a new direction for Britain. Where is this person?