Britain will need to keep its innovative edge to pay for Brexit

It will take Britain many years to negotiate a deal that allows it to embrace Europe fullyReuters

The UK is a great nation, with economic strength far surpassing its size, and people from around the world coming here looking to work or trade.

Opportunities for work and trade are plentiful, not just in London – known as the financial capital of the world – but also across the Midlands and the north of England, where industrial expertise is the foundation of many advanced-level technical jobs.

The UK is the second-largest recipient of inward investment in the world, and in spite of London's booming financial and services sector, growth in foreign direct investment in the north of England is outpacing the rest of the country twofold.

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Will Brexit threaten our strengths? It will, and it will be all the worse if we have a closed and inward-looking Brexit. It will take Britain many years to negotiate a deal that allows us to embrace Europe fully, with free movement for European business and tourist visitors, workers and membership of the single market.

Earlier this year, Britain's electorate endured a hate-fuelled, mendacious and wretched referendum. One of the most wretched, bogus claims told over the course of the referendum campaign was that we pay £350m each week just to be a part of the EU. The actual net figure is less than half that amount.

Not only was the Brexit campaign deceptive and misleading about how much we are paying to stay in the European Union, they were dishonest about how much we will pay to leave Europe.

The pound is now 15% below its value before the referendum. This is a sure sign from the world that there is little confidence in the UK as a competitive power in the global economy. With the rise of interest rates and inflation, GDP growth will be far slower.

Despite being the fastest growing economy in the G7, according to the IMF, the cost of public borrowing will rise as the public debt increases to as much as 90% of GDP, an uncontrollable level.

It is not only business – Brexit will hurt every part of the population: around half of the average individual's shopping basket is imported in the UK, and those prices will rise by a minimum of 5-8%.

Bringing more competitive business to our shores will cost us dearly, too. We are going to need to widen our manufacturing base, and invest in research and development (R&D) and innovation, so that we continue to support Britain's diverse, thriving industrial sector.

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There are signs that both will happen, but the £2bn recently pledged towards R&D investment is a drop in the ocean. We still invest just 1.7% of GDP in R&D and innovation, far behind countries such as Germany and the United States, who spend 2.8% of GDP. To catch up with Germany and the United States, we would have to spend £20bn more per year in R&D and innovation, not £2bn!

Workers at a Nissan car plant in Sunderland, northern England. The city voted in favour of Brexit by a large marginReuters

To match that, we need far more support and investment for our universities, not just in the 'Golden triangle' of Oxford, Cambridge and London, but also in the Midlands Engine and the Northern Powerhouse. We need support for institutions, regardless of whether or not they top the university rankings.

And we need support for the manufacturing base so that growth, innovation and productivity in manufacturing can bring more jobs to our shores.

We must eschew the disastrous message sent out by the prime minister and the home secretary at the Conservative Party Conference earlier this year. We must aspire to more than simply 'British jobs for British workers'.

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Instead, we need the UK to continue to be a beacon of global trade, just as it is a beacon for justice, science, generosity and spirit. Foreign investment, foreign talent, and freedom of movement, particularly for business tourists, are vital to the balance of our economy and to providing jobs for everyone. They do not threaten the security of our workers but they contribute to economic growth, to income tax receipts and they work to everyone's benefit.

Brexit will discourage businesses from investing in the UK, but there is much we can do to continue to ensure we continue to have a place on the world stage.

Freedom of movement within the Single Market is essential for the UK to avoid punishing trade tariffs in the European continent, which accounts for 45% of export trade and 55% of our imports.

We also need a target to increase manufacturing, and a vision for how we will do it. Our manufacturing sector represented 30% of GDP in the 1970s, and considerable growth is needed in high-value manufacturing in order for us to rebalance the economy and increase our productivity by putting Britain to work in areas where British workers excel.

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi was first elected in India, he made this one of the central campaigns among his economic reforms. The 'Make in India' campaign led to more investment in India, and has played a huge role in reforming the economy and making India a major power on the world stage, with a target to increase manufacturing from 16 to 25% of India's GDP.

The UK needs to go global. We need UK start-ups and businesses to export from day one. We need to continue to lead the way in innovation and, for this to happen, we need the government's support.

Bringing UK innovation to the world will require a larger manufacturing base, greater investment in innovation and real support for higher education. We will need the right immigration policies to support trade throughout the world on friendly terms. Particularly in India – the UK's closest ally in the world, along with the US, and the third largest investor in the UK – we must hold our trading partners very close.

Going global means showing the world that the UK is an open, inclusive and outward-looking economy. Britain is exposed and even discredited by some after Brexit. Britain needs to retain its wholeness and completeness so that we can always practice integrity.

Britain is capable of great virtues and can continue to be the place described by the Indian Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, in my favourite poem:

"Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls."


Lord Bilimoria is Founder and Chairman of Cobra Beer, cross bench peer, Chancellor of the University of Birmingham and Founding Chairman of the UK-India Business Council.


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