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Opinion: Guildford Business Is Not All About The High Street: A Comment on Brexit

Published on: 31 Dec, 2016
Updated on: 2 Jan, 2017

David Pillinger

By David Pillinger

Remain campaigner

If I say “Guildford business,” what comes into your head? The shops in the High Street perhaps, or the up and still coming IT sector, especially gaming, which has now taken over from retail as Guildford’s biggest earner?

You might add tourism – but you are probably imaging people from other parts of the UK visiting the Castle Grounds.

There was a time when manufactured goods from Guildford were exported across the world, Dennis fire engines is perhaps the best known example, but some of us are still looking for business opportunities abroad and learning a few lessons along the way.

Just before Christmas, I went to China with a fellow Guildfordian.  We were setting up a joint venture with a Chinese group, looking to sell luxury travel to the growing number of affluent citizens within the 1.3 billion Chinese population.

A couple of my experiences underlined, to me, the futility of pursuing the inward-looking policies that are now becoming the fashion of government in Britain, in particular, those policies on the subject of Brexit.

We met a young Chinese manager, James, working at our Chinese partner company. He had studied at Exeter University. We spoke about scones and clotted cream, among other things British, and he told us that he had stayed on in Britain for two years after his degree, as foreign students were allowed to do at that time.

He was hired by a fast-food restaurant in London.  He told us that his friends and family would ask: “Why are you serving burgers when you should be working in a bank getting real experience?”  He would reply:  “This fast-food job in London has been the most valuable experience of my life.”

He had worked and made friends with people of 20 different nationalities, learned words in 15 languages, and saw that, regardless of where we come from in the world, we are all the exactly the same.

This was James’s experience of an open Britain.  He took it home and now wants to retain his link with Britain by meeting people like us in his country.  Opportunities for us will come from people like James, that’s for sure.

The second experience related to the number of Europeans doing business with this one Chinese company.  At a special trade event hosted by the company in Guangzhou, my colleague and I met seven Spaniards, including the Consul General of Spain with two of his trade attachés and the CEO of a major Spanish group; five French executives and the CEO of a Paris-based group, one of whom sat permanently in Shanghai; and five German and Austrian executives from another group, two of whom were based in China.

We all came from the European Union and we were there in numbers.

So where do these experiences take us?  Well, what they certainly did was provide a breath of fresh air and a break from the nauseatingly insular and isolationist mutterings of some of the politicians back home.

The crowning “glory” of these mutterings is, of course, Brexit. But there are many other instances of a growing “closed-for-business” attitude in Britain today, such as the restriction of access to our universities for people like James, who is taking his British educational experience into his role as a manager in an outward-looking Chinese company.

Guildford business – it’s not just about retail on the High Street

There is also a growing denigration of British people who operate internationally as “citizens of nowhere”.

The Britain that James experienced is now threatened by a crass vision of our nation as a green and pleasant land in which we dream about superiority over foreigners; a kind of freak show founded on perceived past glories, with no basis in economics, operational capability or humanity.

It is a vision that is throwing out many of the defining principles of free-market and liberalism on which our nation’s character and traditions are founded.  And it is a vision, if allowed to persist, that will, over time, erode our voice and influence in the world, as well as our economy and the well-being of our people.

Brexiteers, however, say that we will be better off in future.  Their key premise is that freedom from the EU will “unshackle us” and “turbo-charge” business with emerging markets such as China, India, Burundi. They say that, as a standalone country, Britain will do better; like the crass argument that Scotland would have more fire-power on its own if Scots were “given their country back”.

The experience of people who are actually doing business for Britain tells us that reality is far from this.  As we saw in Guangzhou, we Europeans are already doing business in China, unshackled and turbo-charged. It is impossible for us to imagine how things would be better post-Brexit and how anything could, in a million years, compensate for the withdrawal from the richest, most efficient and harmonised international free-trade area on the globe, the European Single Market.

Maybe, in their misguided quest to make Britain great again, Brexiteers are dreaming of re-taking Hong Kong; dreaming of monopolising the ancient Silk Road to Asia. Who knows?

Those of us involved in the real world of international trade believe that the argument for Brexit has never been explained other than in the ways of snake oil salesmen promising miracle cures.  But then, as business people, we are experts in what we do and our opinion, according to some of these dreamers, doesn’t even count.

International trade has been crucial to Britain for hundreds of years. There could be a very high price to pay if Brexit puts it in jeopardy.

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Responses to Opinion: Guildford Business Is Not All About The High Street: A Comment on Brexit

  1. C Stevens Reply

    December 31, 2016 at 4:54 pm

    Mr Pillinger says: “Just before Christmas, I went to China with a fellow Guildfordian. We were setting up a joint venture with a Chinese group, looking to sell luxury travel to the growing number of affluent citizens within the 1.3 billion Chinese population.”

    I know I’m a bit dim, but what difference would Brexit make to this joint venture, please?

  2. Stuart Barnes Reply

    December 31, 2016 at 10:27 pm

    Why can’t Remainers accept that they lost? We are going to take our country back. We are bored with their constant re running of the referendum. If they are not going to help then can they please, at least, get out of the way.

    • Tom Hunt Reply

      January 1, 2017 at 7:56 pm

      Mr. Barnes needs to develop his understanding of how democracy works. Yes, the referendum result nationally was to leave, but that does not mean that everyone who voted to remain must cease debate or discussion of the subject for ever after.

      I for one will be doing everything I can to ensure that we do not just crash out of the EU without an acceptable alternative, whether that means the UK being in the EEA or not.

      I am certain that Mr. Barnes and I would disagree about what constitutes “acceptable”, hence the need for debates like this. Seeing as Mr. Barnes feels the need to comment on articles such as David Pillinger’s, may I suggest that it might be helpful for him to be just a shade more constructive?

      One more thing, what does “we are going to take our country back” mean? Where did it go?

  3. Jim Allen Reply

    December 31, 2016 at 11:26 pm

    As someone who voted to Leave, I am very much more outward looking than the Europecentric Remainers. What I want is control of our borders and to leave an organisation with no financial competence.

    • Ciaran Doran Reply

      January 3, 2017 at 4:03 pm

      Control of our borders already exists.

      We accept more people from outside the EU than from within.

      It is clear, though, that if we want to continue with free trade with the EU then the same conditions as today will apply and we would have to accept free movement, leaving us in exactly the same situation as today.

      So, some say we should cut the tie completely and cut from the single market in order to be able to control (for control read reduce) the numbers coming in from within the EU. There are arguments for and against and indeed cutting with the single market will likely give more control over who we allow in from within the EU.

      But, if the current authorities this decade, or last, have been unable or unwilling to reduce numbers coming from outside the EU then what makes us think they will start making an impact on those numbers coming from within the EU? If I could see a real challenge to the numbers of people coming in from outside the EU then I might be willing to give the authorities some credence – but that number is going up, not down.

      As for “an organisation with no financial competence” – weren’t we at the centre of that organisation? Weren’t we one of the big three powers within the EU that created the financial incompetence people speak of? If so, then our own people are as much to blame as everyone else.

      But for me, ‘no financial competence’ will remain even if we leave the EU and then we will have no chance to change it; but it will still seriously and adversely affect us.

  4. Dave Middleton Reply

    January 1, 2017 at 2:37 pm

    China, a fully independent, sovereign, nation state.

    Free to trade with whosoever it chooses worldwide, with strict and fully independent control over its laws, its taxation, its borders and strong immigration and migration control.

    A state that’s able to support it’s own businesses by awarding contracts internally if it so wishes, giving Chinese businesses the opportunity to supply it’s own health services, military, police and security forces, without being compelled to offer those contracts to tender to the lowest bidder, in a closed shop group of 28 other nations, often with vastly lower production costs due to inferior worker wages.

    Isn’t that exactly what would be best for Britain?

  5. Sue Hackman Reply

    January 1, 2017 at 4:03 pm

    David Pillinger is right. Our proudest exports have been cultural: our music, drama on the BBC, scientific and educational knowhow, entrepreneurial innovation and IT expertise. These are the things I am proud to stand by when I travel abroad.

    We are a less attractive nation now that our insularity has been revealed. The travelling classes do not admire our hard-heartedness towards war-zone refugees and our unwillingness to share the humanitarian rescue effort. They’re not going to enjoy our new border restrictions, visa requirements and our new reputation as racists.

    I think we look increasingly unattractive as a holiday destination, particularly to a country that is just now opening up and a looking out.

  6. John Armstrong Reply

    January 1, 2017 at 7:38 pm

    I see that David Pillinger is scraping the barrel again for a decent argument to sustain his stance on the single market and the EU.

    To suggest that we are “closed for business” due to Brexit must one the most ludicrous arguments, even by Remain standards, that I have ever seen in print. The entire nation can quite plainly see that offers of trade deals are coming in from across the globe; and no-one is suggesting that we stop trading with Europe which will be falling over itself anyway to retain our business; tariffs or no.

    I won’t do a blow by blow on Mr Pillinger’s letter because frankly it is one false argument upon another. His closing arguments are laughable and include that Brexiteers may want to retake Hong Kong or even the Silk Road. Okay, we know he doesn’t mean it and this just a little light hearted banter; but really, the Silk Road! Maybe the United States too?

    If he wants to insult Brexit, he and other Remainers will have to do a little better than that. We like nothing better that a good solid argument or really well crafted insult.

    John Armstrong is the chair of Guildford Ukip

    • NIls Christiansen Reply

      January 5, 2017 at 10:25 am

      Of course we are receiving “offers of trade deals”. Other countries are simply saying they would like to export cheaply to us.

      The tricky bit will be persuading them to allow our industries to compete with theirs. This is why trade deals are difficult and take a long time to negotiate. 10 years on average – whoever you negotiate them with.

  7. Brian Creese Reply

    January 1, 2017 at 7:54 pm

    Unsurprisingly, David Pilllinger has upset a few people by actually knowing what he is talking about. Making inroads into complex societies like China is a difficult process and so far the EU has indeed been helpful in this regard.

    However, the more telling point is probably the experience of Chinese citizens as students in the UK. Every Chinese student who takes home a positive view of British values and attitudes increases the chances of those people wanting to work or do business with us in the future.

    The current policy of making foreign students feel unwanted, here under sufferance you might say, diminishes these potential rewards. No-one, aside from the government and some serious anti- immigrationists, really sees foreign students as immigrants and the sooner this piece of rhetoric is dropped the better.

    Foreign students bring money into the country now and have the potential to bring a great deal more in the future.

  8. D Bisdee Reply

    January 2, 2017 at 12:14 pm

    David Pillinger makes a number of valuable points. Points which some of those commenting seem to have missed.

    First, any crackdown on foreign students is going to rebound badly on us, as the people like James, the Chinese ex-student, will go elsewhere to study, and we will lose the goodwill and potential business built on contacts made while here. Students coming as far as the UK to study will be their country’s future elite in terms of business, government etc. We have benefited greatly from their studying here.

    Second, we and other EU countries (and lots of others too) are already trading with China and many other countries outside the EU. We don’t need Brexit to do this, and, if we face facts – there is a lot of competition out there. We will now be competing with a massive handicap of no longer being part of the EU.

  9. RWL Davies Reply

    January 3, 2017 at 3:09 pm

    Has “luxury travel”, as opposed to normal tourism, ever been a significant part of “the real world of international trade” in the context of the UK?

    “Luxury travellers” are indifferent to whether the UK is in the EU, or not; if they want to they will come.

    • David Pillinger Reply

      January 3, 2017 at 9:16 pm

      Mr Davies is quite correct, a luxury traveller will be completely indifferent to the UK’s membership of the EU in deciding whether he or she visits the country.

      In fact, so will a normal tourist. Culture and cheapness of the country will tend to be the key drivers of the decision, although others will exist. For the luxury traveller, for example, it will tend to be the existence of lifestyle and boutique hotels and eating venues, and high service levels.

      As regards the proportion of international trade made up of luxury travel, I have no idea at all. I expect it is miniscule.

      I hope this clarifies the situation.

  10. Christopher Dalby Reply

    January 3, 2017 at 10:32 pm

    Very confusing and totally mixed up article.

    To start with China is not in the EU so quite what that has to do in relation to Brexit I have no idea?

    The main point I want to make though is that Brexit is the exact opposite of “inward looking” and “closed for business”. What the majority of people have chosen to do is open up Britain to the world and obviously, the EU is not the whole world.

    We will soon have our full sovereignty back, will be free to control our borders (uncontrolled mass-immigration is a problem as opposed to controlled immigration) we won’t have to pay fortunes for membership of a failing club that has little or no benefit to the average Brit whatsoever and will be free to make our own trade deals with countries such as China, as mentioned.

    Foreign students will still be free to come to Britain of course, the rules have had to be made stricter due to fraud and people overstaying but genuine students will not be affected. This had to happen as it had got completely out of hand with hundreds of fake colleges and universities closed down every year. The biggest threat in regards to students from China is the fact that they are building their own universities, not Britain closing it’s doors to people.

    It’s a shame that people find such gloom in Brexit. It is of great benefit to the country. As for Britain closing it’s doors to the world and such, I just do not understand how that is thought to behappening at all, the opposite is true.

    I have faith in Britain but certainly not on a failing and undemocratic EU and I don’t understand how anybody could support such a broken union with all that has gone on, and continues to go on.

  11. Elizabeth Raum Reply

    January 4, 2017 at 11:57 am

    One could insert Trump for Brexit and come out with the same comments and divides.

    Time will tell if leaving the EU will “make Britain great again” but my suspicion is that it will be wasted time, if not rolling back time, for both countries determined to become great again.

  12. Ciaran Doran Reply

    January 4, 2017 at 4:39 pm

    I have worked internationally for 30 years in the niche technology sectors.

    Since the vote in June I have not heard a single positive voice regarding the UK’s position or proposed direction to leave the EU from leaders and businesses I’ve dealt with around the world. Unfailingly the view put to me is that we have simply chosen to make an already difficult country to deal with become even more difficult.

    Why? As an overseas vendor, when you’re choosing to enter the European markets you have to make your first choice very carefully because it becomes your springboard. It was quite natural for North American and Far Eastern companies to choose the UK. However, since the vote in June the thinking is changing. Of course people don’t walk out the door immediately and we are more likely to hear of companies choosing to come the UK than we are to hear of the companies who considered us and then decided against. We’ll never know what we didn’t get.

    The most common thoughts I’m hearing are a preference for the Netherlands, Belgium and Ireland. No language barriers (in fact the Dutch and Belgians speak several) and generally favourable places to springboard into a market of c.500 million people.

    If you were running a company in China and looking to access a market of either 500million or of 65million people, each with one set of rules and compliances, which would you choose?

    If you were looking to make that decision right now, given the indecision and confusion currently in the UK (for whatever reason) would you make an absolute decision right now or would you wait?

    As David Pillinger observed in China, and regardless of whether I like it or not (and I don’t), I am being told by business leaders outside the EU, mostly in the Far East and in North America, that the UK is heading the wrong way for them.

    The consequence is clear, if not immediate.

  13. John Perkins Reply

    January 5, 2017 at 10:47 am

    The argument being proffered here seems to be that overseas vendors will not want to trouble themselves with selling their goods to the UK. Really? If so, why do many countries and groups, such as the EU, raise tariffs on imports?

    • David Pillinger Reply

      January 12, 2017 at 2:13 pm

      In response to Mr Perkins, it is not that overseas vendors won’t continue to want to sell, it is that we will be creating extra costs for them to do so. As is widely known, business operates mostly at the margin of profitability, and a cost will reduce that margin and in some cases make a transaction that was previously profitable, unprofitable.

      Look at any company’s profit and loss account. In the vast majority of cases, the net profit is just a few percentage points of the sales revenue, demonstrating how tight things are in the real world of business and trade. Believe me, I’m an expert!

      That’s why free trade is so beneficial. Even Brexiteers agree with that! The EU are the undisputed masters of free trade to the benefit of all its members and associates who pay for access to the Single Market.

      The issue in question in the Brexit debate is whether a Brexiteer vision of creating better trade deals with non EU countries could ever possibly compensate for the fall off in trade with the EU, if we no longer have barrier-free trade with our friends and neighbours.

      I think it is unlikely because:

      1. No other trading bloc is as vast or rich as the EU, so any increase obtained from a separate free trade deal (even the USA, which is now doubtful, anyway, given that country’s increasing preference for protectionism) could not possibly compensate;

      2. The EU are doing trade deals around the world anyway and we would miss out on these as non members. Top of their agenda are deals with the same countries that we now say would be top of our agenda, so no net gain there!

      3. The EU’s deals are likely to be far better than anything we could possibly negotiate as a minnow country.

      Brexiteers cannot ever argue against the damage caused by withdrawal from the Single Market. In fact, during the EU Referendum campaign they were saying loudly that we would not have to leave the Single Market if we Brexited. What a false promise that was.

      All of this points to the Brexiteer’s real agenda in wanting to leave the EU. It is not about trade and consequent wellbeing of our people, but … who knows what?

      And if anyone mentions migration, I will even write a piece explaining why migration is not a problem to the British people because high migration areas voted strongly to Remain, and how it has no negative effect on wages, or is a drain on public services. On the contrary, it improves the situation in all cases.

      • C Stevens Reply

        January 12, 2017 at 5:23 pm

        Lincolnshire recorded the UK’s highest leave vote, with Boston voting 75.6% leave. The 2011 census found that 13% of residents in Boston were born in the EU, being largely from Eastern Europe and having arrived since 2004. Try imagining what an influx such as that would do to a small, fen-land town.

        Or even better, can I suggest that instead of reporting from somewhere as far away as China, Mr Pillinger takes himself off up to Boston? Then he can talk to people about the effect that immigration has had on wages, on opportunities, and on their quality of life, and why they voted in droves to leave the EU.

        Then he can write his piece explaining why migration is not a problem to the British people.

  14. Mary Bedforth Reply

    January 12, 2017 at 8:23 pm

    Mr Pillinger’s LinkedIn entry includes:

    “Campaign Launch Director, Business Liaison Officer and Public Relations Coordinator
    Britain Stronger In Europe
    May 2016 | Economic Empowerment
    Have taken a leading role in the campaign for the United Kingdom to REMAIN in the European Union, working around the clock in the lead up to the referendum on 23rd June 2016 in Southern England.”

    But the referendum has happened and the result is decided.

    • David Pillinger Reply

      January 13, 2017 at 2:14 pm

      The need for this comment from Ms Bedforth amuses me. It, of course, confirms what anyone can discern from my writings: that I support remaining in the EU.

      More newsworthy a comment would have been if Ms Bedforth had noted me to be a member of UKIP!

      • Mary Bedforth Reply

        January 16, 2017 at 6:27 pm

        Nor am I a member of Ukip, nor of any political party, when it comes down to it. In a previous thread, I was called a ‘Little Englander’ which I resented.

        That was in reply to my question about the opinions on the EU of the Greek, Italian and Spanish people, many of whom are living in penury following the depredations of the banks. What did the EU do for them?

        I have a Greek doctor friend who works without any salary. Her patients cannot afford their drugs or medicines.

        In any case, as I said before, the referendum result is known for better or worse.

  15. David Pillinger Reply

    January 13, 2017 at 1:57 pm

    In answer to Mr Steven’s comment: the people from outside Boston are there because they are needed; nurses, doctors, IT specialists, fruit pickers, drivers, accountants.

    They are not taking work from others or pushing down wages, they are filling positions that can’t be filled generally, so that businesses can flourish grow and employ blue blood Bostonians, and so that taxes can be raised and public services provided.

    When Britain was a basket-case economy that didn’t need people to come in and fill work positions, Boston, if I recall, was the dark hole of Calcutta, with no hope and massive unemployment. It isn’t now! It is much better now. Bostonians and others were going to work in Germany wishing their pets Auf Wiedersehn!

    It is worth noting that places with highest migration (whether EU or non EU) are the places that voted Remain in vast numbers. I used to be a migrant in Lambeth, and noted that that borough voted 79% to remain! There isn’t a British person barely in sight!

    It is also worth noting that migrants in the UK (especially those from the EU) contribute more to social and public services because they come to work, already educated and trained. This is proven and cannot be argued with.

    Incidentally, Guildford is full of non-Guildfordians: me for example, from Bristol (via Lambeth). Are you going to complain about me moving to Guildford too and reducing wages and sucking up social services?

    It’s time to end this parochialism that in history pitted British against Irish and Commonwealth residents, and now Europeans, and Southern English against northerners, jocks and taffies.

    History shows it is not healthy!

    Also, delighted to see Ms Bedforth has checked out my LinkedIn profile! I hope she enjoyed reading about me!

  16. C Stevens Reply

    January 16, 2017 at 4:09 pm

    The leave vote in Lincolnshire was because the vast majority of the EU migrants aren’t “doctors, IT specialists or accountants”, they’re agricultural workers. And the effect of this huge influx has been to drive down wages.

    The New Statesman of 1 July last year on the Boston vote: “The average wage here has been forced down (£9.13 an hour, compared with the £13.33 national average) by employment agencies hiring cheap, flexible labourers. Similarly, rents have been driven up disproportionately by landlords taking advantage of the newcomers’ willingness to live ten to a house.”

    Moreover, since the majority of migrants are from parts of Europe which have had EU membership only since 2004, we’re looking at a massive change in a short period of time.

    It’s no good suggesting that Lambeth and Boston are alike. They’re not. Immigration in London has been a process going on over a very long time. What those in Boston face has happened over the last 10 years or so.

    Mr Pillinger says that he used to be “a migrant in Lambeth, and noted that borough voted 79% to remain! There isn’t a British person barely in sight!” He has now taken his argument beyond the rational. If there aren’t British people in Lambeth, where are the British people who aren’t troubled by migration and so voted remain?

    I’m retiring from the debate while I still have my sanity.

  17. David Pillinger Reply

    January 16, 2017 at 5:05 pm

    In answer to C Stevens, my reference to “hardly a British person in sight”, as most people would have discerned, was for theatrical impact, with a bit of a tongue in cheek. A “façon de dire”.

    I reiterate, however, that the referendum clearly and unequivocally demonstrated that British people are welcoming migrants to the extent that the more there are the greater the value to society and wellbeing of its citizens. Hence the enormous Remain vote in high migrant areas, and the low Remain vote in areas of very low migration, such as those C Stevens refers to.

    I will say it again, that we need, as a society today, to lose our parochialism and prejudices. Ever since the rise of UKIP, sectors of society are pitched against each other where previously everyone was tolerant working for the common good.

    C Stevens has demonstrated a disdain for the hard-working poor. The people who do the dross jobs in society are always picked on and become the fodder of the élites and the politicos. C Stevens it’s Ok to be a migrant doctor or banker, but not to be a migrant fruit picker. This points precisely to what the silent majority all know about UKIP… their agenda is rather sinister… we’ll leave it at that.

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