This article originally appeared in City AM on November 8, here.
Prime Minister May has announced her intention to create a “Great “Club” for 100 of the world’s most senior business leaders to get easier visas into Britain.
The “Great Club” may have great resonance in history, reaching back to the days of the “Great Game”, but it really is a softly-softly policy solution when something grander could easily take place – and elsewhere already has.
Back in the 1990s Australia led the way in the creation of APEC – the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation – once described cynically as four nouns looking for a verb. Whilst APEC had many political objectives, one of its greatest successes thus far has been in business, in part through the easing of travel regulations for those doing business.
Senior business leaders in APEC member economies – including the US, Russia, Australia, New Zealand, Peru, Chile, China, Philippines and others – can obtain, each three years, a pre-approved multi-entry business visa called the APEC Business Travellers Card. This wonderful little card avoids constant visa applications and speeds through customs via the use of the diplomatic channel at airports.
When one compares APEC Business Travellers Card to the Prime Minister’s “Great Club”, one sees the new club for the shy policy suggestion that is.
Why not create an APEC BTC for the Commonwealth? New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Malaysia, Singapore are just some amongst the Commonwealth countries that are sure to welcome the idea. They are countries already signed up to the APEC Business Travellers Card do for them it would merely be the current regime – plus Britain.
After all, if Australia can be in the Eurovision Contest why can’t Britain benefit from an APEC idea?
Indeed Australia and India are amongst the group of Indian Ocean countries that are currently discussing expanding the BTC idea to the Indian Ocean. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why India has responded quite lukewarmly to the prime ministers very mild suggestions on immigration reform. Britain may see their suggestion as a big change, but India sees it as “ho-hum”.
What is more, a number of Western economies are now facing wake-up calls impacting in immigration and business that are about to hit. Most western economies are moving from the post-war baby boom to the post-war retirement boom.
In Australia the year 2012 was the first year more people left the job market through retirement than entered the job market from growing old. The long-term challenge that government’s face is how to fund an increasing demand on aged care and medical services with a shrinking tax base. Do they cut services, raise taxes, raise borrowing, or broaden the tax base by bringing in more working age people? Increased tax, cutting services and increasing borrowing don’t fly.
This leaves us with population growth – more babies and more migrants. Babies have a twenty-year lag, migrants don’t.
Germany has partially solved their problem by bringing in 1 million working age people under the refugee program. This may solve the economic issue although admittedly it creates another integration issue.
Britain, up until now, has been relatively well-placed on immigration with the EU’s Freedom of movement legislation. Those white Christian Polish plumbers that some voted against in the Brexit referendum have actually been a strong economic positive for the United Kingdom.
The ending of free movement will challenge the United Kingdom to find those replacement workers elsewhere. Remember these replacement workers are not just to do jobs that planned the whole left by retirees. Stopping immigration, or reducing immigration, would leave a huge black hole in the budget. Post Brexit, many new migrants may come from the Commonwealth, particularly the subcontinent including India and Pakistan.
And this brings in one of the delicious ironies that for those few people who voted for Brexit because they didn’t want immigration. They will find over time that immigration will continue at the same or higher rate, but less of it from the largely Christian, largely white, European Union, and more of it coloured and more of it Islamic from outside the European Union.
So far Britain is tiptoeing into the post-Brexit world What we need instead are bold statements, definitive direction and clear opportunities grasped for post-Brexit Britain.
Andrew MacLeod is a visiting Professor at Kings College London and a Non Executive Director of Cornerstone Capital in the US. He was a Remain campaigner and has now combined with Brexit campaigners to form Brexit Advisory Services at UK’s Griffin Law. He can be followed @AndrewMMacLeod.