With only 72 days left until the next election, I can’t be alone in my growing frustration with politicians and commentators and their unhealthy obsession with the issues of the UK’s role in Europe and immigration.
The sensational, headline-grabbing immigration tag is a smokescreen that detracts from the real issue; business. It also fuels unhealthy and potentially dangerous nationalism among some sections of the UK population.
The media and Westminster have been drawn in to this false debate which, rather than strengthening the UK’s economy and negotiating position, instead causes tremendous concern among global business that the UK will not only leave the EU, but also that it will close its doors to immigrants and foreign students. Both courses would have devastating consequences for the UK economy.
While this posturing rumbles on, back in the real world, businesses are operating successfully across the globe and getting on with what’s important; doing business and, creating value, jobs and wealth.
Withdrawing from the EU would, in my opinion, be particularly disastrous for Newcastle and the North East given our geography. Here in Newcastle, business recognises this and is continuing to get its head down and work hard to forge valuable links with Europe and further afield.
Kilfrost is a prime example of a business already operating globally from Newcastle. It is the world leader in de/anti-icing products, has its headquarters here in the city and exports to over 63 countries worldwide.
Named UK Port of the Year last year and going from strength to strength, the Port of Tyne is another. It is one of the UK’s major deep sea ports providing a vital trading gateway to Europe and beyond.
A third great example is Nigel Wright Recruitment. Headquartered and founded in Newcastle, the company helps businesses make crucial professional appointments across 11 European and Scandinavian countries and has just opened a second office in Denmark.
NE1 itself is also working hard exploring specific European markets and forging direct links between like-minded businesses.
In March we will be hosting a business delegation from Hamburg and are hoping to do the same with French and Swedish delegations in the coming months. The aim of these visits is firmly practical; we want to help companies, across all sectors, to do business across nations.
Another dimension to NE1’s international links stems from the work we are doing with our young people’s initiative, Space 2 in Newcastle which helps secure jobs and apprenticeships for young people.
We are hoping to get funding from the EU for an exchange programme, to send young people from Newcastle to live and work and gain experience in other EU countries. The arrangement would be reciprocal with, we hope, Irish, German and French young people coming over to Newcastle.
The free flow of workers around Europe is a cardinal principle of European Union membership. The flow of skilled labour and specialists across borders is good for the economy and society more generally.
As businesses like those in Newcastle get on with the job in hand, they do not welcome or need the growing uncertainty of the UK’s place in the EU being up for debate. Neither do they need distracting headlines about immigration. Nor further damaging restrictions on students and skilled labour from around the world; all these uncertainties do is threaten to compromise long-term investment strategies and the UK’s international competitiveness.
In the run-up to the election and beyond, what we need is certainty, support and practical help not political posturing and threats which are only going to ensure that things get more difficult in the future.
Sean Bullick is Chief Executive of NE1 Ltd – the business improvement district for Newcastle City Centre.