The following column was first published on The Daily Telegraph on 9 September, 2016. To see the original story click here.
Since June’s Brexit vote, the Government has rightly wasted no time in putting Britain’s economic security and our future trade strategy at the top of the political agenda. Trade negotiators are being hired. A new Trade department led by Liam Fox is already up and running. And British diplomatic posts around the world are fully energised: for example, over the summer, the British Consulate in Hong Kong provided excellent support when I was in the region promoting Havant-based exporters.
Here at home, Business Secretary Greg Clark has an ambitious agenda to keep productivity and growth high, ensuring British businesses have the best environment in which to grow and export around the world. Similarly, Brexit Secretary David Davis made it clear in the Commons on Monday that the referendum result “…is about seizing the huge and exciting opportunities that will flow from a new place for Britain in the world. There will be new freedoms, new opportunities…We can get the right trade policy for the UK.” As the Government develops its new Industrial Strategy, leading the world in the new Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) should be a key aspect of our Brexit trade plans.
Around 250 years ago, Britain led the First Industrial Revolution as engines and factories powered by coal and steam changed the world’s economic landscape. Today, we stand on the cusp of a new technological age characterised by artificial intelligence (AI), hyper-connectivity and mass-automation, now dubbed the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It was the theme at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos this year, underlining its importance on the global agenda.
During the referendum campaign, a key argument put forward by Leave was that Brexit gave us the ability to strike new trade deals. This now presents Britain with an opportunity to ramp up exports of the new goods and technologies that characterise the 4IR. From 3D printers and drones to advanced robots and biotechnology, a bountiful supply of next generation British exports is ready and waiting – if we seize the opportunity to make our country a world leader in the field.
Yesterday, I led the first ever House of Commons debate on the 4IR, and made these points to Ministers. In the coming months, I’ll be launching a more detailed set of policy proposals in a pamphlet for the Free Enterprise Group of Conservative MPs backed by the free-market think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs. Importantly, the Government’s key role is to create the right regulatory environment for 4IR-related businesses to flourish: a point echoed by Davis when he said that we now need regulation that “helps rather than hinders businesses and workers”, and by me during the debate.
In the global race to lead the 4IR, the countries best able to adapt to its political, social and economic ramifications will be those with nimble free-market economies, low taxes, and robust intellectual property rights that encourage entrepreneurialism and protect innovation. As a new Industrial Strategy is developed, the Government must continue to focus on pro-enterprise policies that encourage investment in 4IR technologies, and the companies and founders behind them.
From funding regional 4IR technology hubs so that growth isn’t just focused on the South East and continuing to invest in apprenticeships to delivering 5G internet and protecting innovation through the legal system, Government can help shape the 4IR’s evolution at home so we can be competitive abroad. Businesses, such as 3D printer specialist Dream 3D in my Havant constituency, have already started to embrace the 4IR, and now they need secure access to global markets to attract international clients. The potential market for British-made 4IR exports is limitless.
The Prime Minister has made clear that Brexit means Brexit, so entrepreneurs and policymakers must now seize the opportunity presented by new trade deals to make Britain a world leader in the 4IR at home so we can export more abroad. Throughout our history Britain has adopted a pro-innovation approach to technological advances, and our businesses have adopted a “can-do” pragmatic approach when faced with political and regulatory changes, from the abolition of the Corn Laws to the City’s “Big Bang” to Brexit. We’ve never allowed fears about the future to stunt the economic and social progress which brought about new jobs, new products and new export opportunities. We soon realised the folly of requiring drivers of early cars to be preceded by a man carrying a red flag. We must adopt the same, forward-thinking approach when it comes to the leading the 4IR in the age of Brexit.
Alan Mak is Conservative MP for Havant and Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Entrepreneurship.