"Time to forge a better country" - Lord Popat
Diwali is a strange time of year; it always feels like we’re looking in three directions. We cast our minds back to the year we’ve just had, and everything that it entails, we look forward to a new year and the opportunities that it may offer, and yet – as the festivities continue around us – we feel firmly in the ‘now’, surrounded by family and friends as the celebrations continue.
In many ways that same feeling of looking in multiple directions is true for Britain. This year’s EU Referendum elicited many different responses and feelings; but it was a huge democratic exercise that gave us a result.
Whilst I may not have supported the ‘leave’ campaign, I am now of the mind-set that we are where we are, and we need to make a success of it.
There is little point in looking back. I can understand the frustration many people had with the level of debate in the campaign, but trying to pretend the result didn’t happen – or that, if we changed the rules of the game, we’d get a different result – is just wasted energy. All of us now need to pull together to build a stronger and more prosperous nation.
The Brexit negotiations that the Government will undertake are only a small part of our nation’s future. What is much more important is how we create a new more productive economy. International trade deals are important, but nowhere near as important as investing in new infrastructure, encouraging firms to invest in new equipment and changing our corporate mind-set so that exporting becomes a thing businesses are expected to do, rather than doing if you are the exception.
We are in a strange period as a nation, like an aeroplane waiting to take off. Article 50 hasn’t yet been triggered, and nobody is sure about what kind of nation Britain will become. But just like at Diwali, it is incumbent on all of us to make sure that light defeats the dark.
Britain is at its most successful when it is an open and confident nation. We need to be the world’s Ambassadors on free trade, to be evangelical in our support of democracy and human rights, and to be brave in conquering new commercial frontiers. We are the fifth largest economy in the world; the second most influential country in the world; one of the biggest military powers. We should not doubt how successful we can be.
There are advantages to leaving the European Union, and those of us who supported remain should not be blind to them. Unskilled immigration has been a problem for many years in this country and we can now control it. Agricultural policy in Europe is protectionist and hurts consumers as well as farmers in Africa (and elsewhere). The EU has been slow to build relations with the fastest growing economies in the world.
Of course there are risks. But no decision is ever without risks or downsides. What Brexit offers us is an opportunity to keep the things we like, and hit the reset button on the things that need to change. If we can make Britain’s economy more productive, if we can build stronger commercial and diplomatic relations with the fastest-growing economies, and if we can ensure that those on lower wages begin to feel like they are also benefiting from the advances our country has made, then we will be a better nation.
So as we look to the future this Diwali, let us think of the opportunities available to us, and let us all think about what we can do to make this country even greater than it was before.