Passports have been emotive throughout the whole referendum campaign. The news that the return to the blue passport will not be led by a British firm has caused much derision.
However, this loud debate over a passport contract is typical of the closed-mindedness that has become commonplace since the vote to leave the EU. Focusing on passports sets us down the wrong path and focusses on the wrong issues.
Getting defensive about UK passports serves no one. What’s really important is ensuring that British businesses can continue to collaborate with EU partners in the post-Brexit era.
It’s a global decision
There is the argument that our passports are an important UK issue, and as such must be made on these shores. It’s a viewpoint that has resonated with many, as evidenced by 118,000 people signing petitions demanding Britain’s passports be made in the UK.
Awarding the contract to a British firm because they’re British may appeal to some Brexiteers and appease the short-term narrative around keeping jobs in the UK. Further adding to the irony is that the Franco-Dutch firm awarded the contract, Gemalto, has committed to creating 70 jobs in the UK as a result, at sites in Fareham and Heywood in Lancashire.
However, withdrawing into a protectionist agenda around keeping jobs in Britain and whipping up nationalist sentiment is counter-productive in the long run. It will only serve as a hindrance rather than a help for the businesses it was meant to protect.
Awarding the contract to a non-UK firm is not a ‘national humiliation’ as many have mooted. In actual fact, it’s the kind of Britain we want to promote – an open free trading nation, committed to retaining global contracts.
Free trade is defined as trade left to its natural course without tariffs, quotas or restrictions. It begins at home. If Britain is seen to be putting up barriers and playing to an isolationist agenda – expect to meet retaliatory action. Others will follow suit and put up trade barriers – something we can ill afford when we are relying on trade deals abroad.
Trade protectionism is a dangerous game to play – a game we’ll lose in the post-Brexit world.
Shake off the agenda and collaborate
An open and welcoming attitude will be vital if we are to succeed in the future. Collaboration on an international level rather than an isolationist, UK-first agenda will help the UK succeed.
Withdrawing from the world after March 2019 would be extremely detrimental. To have the ability, support and the resources to collaborate with the best in the world will be vital to enhancing the UK’s global clout in a post-Brexit world.
Take the iconic Mini Cooper as an example. Like the blue passport, it is emblematic of the UK’s car industry. Nowadays, however, before it rolls out of the factory in Oxford some of the parts have made a 2,000-mile journey and crossed the Channel three times. Its construction would be impossible without cross-border co-operation.
The UK tech scene is another example of how international collaboration works in Britain’s favour. With French and Belgian cities a mere two hours away, the opportunities for international co-operation in London are second-to-none. London would be foolish to turn its back on Europe if it is to retain its position as a centre for innovation.
The brightest and best view London as Europe’s capital for tech. Why? Effective collaboration is the key to making innovation happen. The city has cultivated an ecosystem based on knowledge-sharing across disciplines and borders, resulting in tech success stories all across the capital. We need more of this, not less.
Britain needs to be looking outwards, not inwards. Focusing on passports serves a misguided introversion agenda that runs contrary to the global one we should be promoting in order to retain our place on the world stage and remain a hotbed of ingenuity.
Gavin Poole is CEO of Here East.
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