Brexit reflects a divided country. One part fearful of change, another part high on hope, the rest apathetic, despairing, puzzled like the rest of the world by the feverish political midsummer night’s dream without end that Britain seems to have stumbled into.
Personally, I think it’s naive to believe the African-Caribbean community should have one voice on this. David Lammy’s fervent remain position is no less valid than Kemi Badenoch’s reminder in her maiden speech to Parliament that, the Brexit vote, however messy, was an honest expression of democracy.
Is it inconsistent to deplore the rise of nativism that Brexit has unleashed but also be sympathetic to the instinct for sovereignty and change that in part drives it? Lucky for me, I’m not a politician, so no need to pretend reality doesn’t have many shades, and the same experience can’t have multiple interpretations, which leads me to the conclusion that Brexit is more than one thing. It’s an opportunity and a threat. And it will be experienced as such.
First, in a spirit of optimism, let’s start with the opportunities. Across this country there are young and old men and women of African-Caribbean heritage running businesses, trying to start businesses, and looking for opportunities in businesses. Go on Twitter, go to a Start-Up event, you’ll see them. Nigerians, Jamaicans, Kenyans, Trinidadians, some born here, some immigrants, some succeeding, some failing, all hustling.
Google, Facebook, Apple, in fact all of the biggest tech companies in the world will still have offices in the U.K. post Brexit. They will still need engineers, mathematicians and those with the language skills to help them develop AI and sell products globally. But it will be more complicated to bring in those skilled staff from Europe. So, learn to code, learn German, learn Mandarin, become valuable to them. Unrealistic? Impossible? I think not.
However, let’s also recognise the challenges. The business writer, Michael Porter, defines strategy as ‘the creation of a unique and valuable position, involving different sets of activities.’ Since joining the EU in 1973, the UK’s strategic position has been to build political and economic growth on the back of the free flow of people, ideas, goods and services across Europe. Leaving that position is a threat to jobs in finance, car manufacturing, and a multitude of other industries that built businesses around it.
As hollow as the slogan ‘Global Britain’ may sound to some, it’s also an opportunity. The UK, post Brexit will need trade deals. Not just with the EU and USA but with Ghana, Guyana, Barbados and more. Links with your ancestral home represent not just cultural and family heritage, but also a business opportunity, as demonstrated by the success of businesses such as Dark Sugars and Mac Philips.
I may be wrong, but I think the other significant challenges are ahead, like language, behaviour and belonging. Putting to one side uneasy echoes of the British Empire, the speed at which the dream of a ‘Global Britain’ can slip into anti-Irish, anti-German and anti-immigrant rhetoric is revealing. When considered in the context of a hostile environment to immigrants, from which members of the Windrush generation are still dying, it’s dangerous. Will the burden of having to be a ‘good immigrant’ remain post-Brexit?