This article was written by Bim Afolami and published by The Times.
Brexit can be a catalyst for signalling that Britain is open for business
Hundreds of people have turned down jobs in the UK tech sector since the Brexit vote, it emerged last week, with one in three tech entrepreneurs losing a potential employee owing to immigration uncertainty.
This is alarming. We have the leading tech industry in Europe. In 2016 the UK secured £6.8 billion in digital tech investment: that’s over 50 per cent more than any other European country.
Over the past five years London has attracted more investment than Paris, Berlin and Amsterdam combined. We need to keep it that way.
Last week the government announced that it will double the number of tier 1 visas for exceptional tech talent, and I welcome that. But do these measures go far enough?
We need to use Brexit as a catalyst and an opportunity and send a strong signal to the world that Britain is open for business. That means being open for talented people from abroad, and open to talented British people to succeed at home.
We are a leading world economy. Our legal and taxation system is fair and trusted. Our culture and brands are some of the most trusted over the globe. Our manufacturers are exceptional.
We have long been a magnet for international capital and foreign direct investment. The City of London is the world’s financial centre, and helps finance much international business and trade.
But the most important kind of capital we have is our talented workforce, born both in Britain and abroad. This talent helps bring business to our country.
Entrepreneurs set up here in the knowledge that they can attract the best. If we lose a large part of that employment pool, businesses will simply move elsewhere: we cannot make ourselves less attractive to talented workers and still expect to be just as attractive to businesses, entrepreneurs and investors.
The perception that some have of Brexit – that we have voted to become a nation of Little Englanders – is wrong.
From personal experience, I know that we have always been a welcoming nation to those from all over the world.
My parents came to this country from Nigeria in the 1980s to start a family, make the most of their potential and contribute to Britain, as an NHS doctor and pharmacist. The kind, welcoming nature of these islands will never change.
Yet now the referendum has occurred Britain must demonstrate that we are open to business, and to growth, innovation and entrepreneurship from all over the world (especially with the fast-growing Commonwealth).
We can’t get away from the fact that businesses are facing a period of temporary uncertainty in terms of Britain’s future relationship with the EU.
So now would be a good time to send a strong signal to them that the UK is open for business. Significantly increasing the number of visas available to the most talented workers and entrepreneurs from the rest of the world would be a good start.