Prime Minister Theresa May has been holding cross-party talks with Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn to try and find a way out of the Brexit deadlock. May is also hoping to secure a deal with Labour before the European Council meeting, where she plans to ask for an extension to the Brexit deadline until 30 June.
Sputnik discussed where Brexit is heading with two English businessmen, Luke Connor, managing partner of Conner & Co LLC, a mergers and acquisition and corporate finance company, and Robert Knights, the CEO of the SK Group, a global logistics provider based in Moscow.
Sputnik: Luke, could give us your general overview and mindset, preferred ideology when it to comes to the leave or remain strategy?
Luke Conner: So of the two I’ll be a remainer. What does that entail? Well doing nothing I think. I was pretty happy with the status quo.
I think there are some problems with the EU, and the way in which it is run and the way in which it delivers particularly to the UK, but probably to some other countries as well, and some of the structure as well, but I think the best way of resolving those problems was within the EU rather than outside of it.
Sputnik: Robert, what’s your position with regards to this then?
Robert Knights: I’m in the leave camp. I had the opportunity on a few occasions to work with the European Union for a number of years in Poland, as Poland became part of the European Union. I have a view which says that the apparatus which is becoming European Union and its ability to dictate to nation-states within the European Union has been over played by a particular body.
They had a chance to renegotiate with Mr Cameron, it had a chance to reinvent itself, as Luke says, more structured and more conciliatory manner, it didn’t do that, they went to the UK and the country voted to leave. I didn’t vote. I’ve been living in Russia for 25 years, so I felt that would be a bit disingenuous of me to vote, but for my family in the UK and for my friends in the UK I prefer the leave vote.
Sputnik: Robert’s mentioned the point about the fact that David Cameron went back to the European Union prior to the 2016 vote looking for a better deal, for better conditions for the United Kingdom, they chose to give up that opportunity, would you say that the European Union has sort of contributed to the mess, the current limbo that we’re in, in terms of the fact that we’ve now passed 29 March and we’re still no wiser on delivering Brexit, and obviously the European Union has been very strong in their particular stance, but really if they’d been a little bit more able to negotiate a better deal three years ago we wouldn’t be in this position, would we Luke?
Luke Conner: You may be right. I think what happened there was they perhaps didn’t take David Cameron seriously enough, and that’s because David Cameron wasn’t taking his own words seriously enough. He didn’t think that at the referendum UK would vote leave, so I don’t think he was aggressive or active enough.
They did reject his proposals, that said, weren’t really enough to satisfy Brexiteers, so any alternative they’d offer probably wouldn’t have been enough anyway to change the referendum result and I don’t think it didn’t, what happened it just went straight through to referendum […] It didn’t help the EU, I’m not a Europhile in that sense, but I still think that it’s better to be in, you know like sir Humphrey Appleby said in ‘Yes Minister’, it was a comedy and he wasn’t a real advisor, but he said:
If you take Theresa May’s deal, Theresa May’s deal is actually not really Brexit, to me it’s just worse than the current position because you’re still in the customs union, you’re still going to spend two years or more negotiating, you still got the backstop potentially after that, so you’ve got this situation where you’re actually just paying for a worse situation than you had before, so is that caused by the EU being difficult? Yes, I agree with that.
Sputnik: What’s your particular stance with regard to being able to trade more freely as a businessman in Russia, with the United Kingdom free of the shackles of the European Union bureaucracy, how will that benefit you and your business in terms of being able to deliver better product services and freer movement of trade, probably globaly as well, have you got a particular take on that?
Robert Knights: Well my business consists of many multinational clients none of which, unfortunately, are from the United Kingdom. I think the issue with the UK and Russia is somewhat larger than the European Union question.
I do think that if we were to leave and we were outside of the customs union and we could negotiate our own trade deals I would ideally love for the UK to sit at the table with the Russian Federation and finally arrive at a point where we could become good trading partners. Of course, we’re shackled by the European Union in that respect because were not allowed to.
In some instances, there’s still business done, British Petroleum and a few other people have very substantial businesses in Russia, as has Unilever British company, which also has substantial business in Russia, hasn’t stopped them from trading in the past, but I do think the rhetoric, and the whole issue with sanctions as well, has prevented a lot of UK companies from even considering operating in Russia, which is why I don’t have any UK customers.
I have many French customers, German customers, Italian customers who all either circumvent these sanctions or are still happy to trade in Russia despite the best efforts of European Union and the United States to encourage people not to do so, but I do feel if we were outside the European Union and we had the mindset, because I don’t think we do, if we had the mindset to want to come here and sit down and resolve our issues and trade.
I’m sure it would be a benefit for people like me with a British background who have businesses here that would happily talk to UK startups, happily talk to UK companies as they want to come ashore and trade in Russia.
Sputnik: We had a good chat a few months ago when we were talking about the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative and the advancement of that particular strategy and the difference that it was going to affect in terms of the global situation of doing trade with these new and upcoming emerging countries and jurisdictions, and I think one of the economists in the UK and many economists have said that in terms of its preference and its credibility the European Union probably in the next 10 years or so is going to lose a lot of its potential trading power, it’s going to lose its potential share, it’s going to drop from probably 50% of global trade to down 30%, there’s going to be all these new emerging countries coming through from South America and Asia, how do you think that would probably affect the current situation in terms of the global trade, people like Robert in terms of his environment of work, it’s very much something that’s going to be important for these new trading partners and new emerging countries. What’s your argument about that?
Luke Conner: From a remainer prospective I don’t have a strong argument on that. One of the problems of the UK is that it has not looked out enough to Asia. I don’t think UK businesses are open-minded enough.
One of the best arguments for Brexit, if it really worked, and I concede this one, would actually be that the European Union made us a bit lazy, we went from this sort of this swashbuckling, trading nation to being one that largely relied on the EU because it was an easy access market because it was so big, and it was on the doorstep, and the US.
That’s not to say now we don’t have trading relationships all around the world and in some really crazy places, but we’re not like we were in the late 19th early 20th century.
Sputnik: Robert, I believe there’s only 6% of UK companies that actually have trading relationships with European companies throughout the other 27 states, our mindset seems to be totally wrong when it comes to basically taking this new fresh approach, isn’t it?
Robert Knights: I think we got it wrong from day one when it came to negotiating the exit, my particular stance would’ve been: “No deal, make us an offer,” rather than, as Luke pointed out, it’s a botched job that’s been put on the table by the Prime Minister, which is worse than what it is now, it doesn’t give any benefits to anybody or anyone, it just cements the mess that was created in the first place.
Luke is also absolutely right about the mindset in the UK being more outgoing and challenging the comfort zone that’s been the European Union for the last 30 years in terms of trading relationships.
People like me and Luke take in significant personal risk, time and investment to make a way in places like Russia, and the UK has lost a lot of people that would have done that in the past, but the UK has taken the easy option and traded with Europe. We need to get back into the mindset where we explore more, set up more, trade more.
I think we wasted the last two years negotiating with the European Union a deal which doesn’t suit anybody. I’m not surprised the Parliament voted it down three times because it just was a dog’s breakfast of a deal.
It didn’t suit anybody, it didn’t suit the European Union, it didn’t suit Parliament, doesn’t suit anybody, so it’s never going to get through. Being outside of that bloc and having a relationship with that bloc, like some other, countries do, would be the best results for everybody.
I don’t think anybody would sit around the table here and say: “UK trade with Germany is not the trade that you want.” It is, for Germany and the UK. What I don’t see is us making the effort, we haven’t seem to have made the effort over the last to years to go to China and to build more of a trade relationship there, build more of a trade relationship back in India, there’s lot’s of things we can do that we haven’t done and we’ve wasted two years doing basically nothing. It’s been remain policy I think, it’s been do nothing and hope that it all goes away and wake up the next day and pretend that it never happen in the first place, which is no strategy for anything.
Sputnik: Robert, you’re obviously talking about the lack of leadership that the UK government has actually shown with regard to negotiations even before sort of the news 3 or 4 months ago now that Theresa May had actually come up with an agrement, albeit most of the government and the rest of the electorate were in shock when we heard what the agreement was. What’s your particular comment with regard to the UK government now and the way it has conducted negotiations with the EU in terms of really showing leadership, but its not just leadership, it’s no strength or any backbone in terms of showing the UK’s mettle and saying that we’re the leading 5th economy in the world and this is what we want, we got the grounds to have a bloody good deal.
Robert Knights: I coudn’t agree more. In my daily business operation in Russia we’re not the world’s biggest company, that’s for sure, and we face the challenge of attracting customers, you have to beef yourself up, you have to in some respects blow up the frock to get what you want, but the UK doesn’t need to do that, as you quite rightly say, it’s the world’s fifth biggest economy, it is sliding down scale, one or two countries have overtaken us in the last decade or so, it didn’t enter the negotiations with the right mindset, you’re quite right.
The leadership throughout the process has been appalling, I don’t think there’s been any leadership. Mrs. May has been standing alone negotiating one-on-one with people who maybe a little bit brighter than she is, and they have taken her to the cleaners, effectively.
We’ve had leverage, but we’ve not used our leverage with them, she’s walked back to Parliament with that deal which is unacceptable to everybody, whether it’s the backstop, whether it’s being retained in the customs union, whether it is another 3 years, 4 years, 5 years who knows to renegotiate this real leave policy in terms of political and commercial relationships post Brexit whenever that it.
Lack of leadership completely, the government itself has disintegrated into a disloyal rabble who seem to think it’s much more fun to resign, start new parties, begin to negotiate across the bench without actually focusing on the job in hand and getting a Brexit deal through.
They’re showing their hand by having these votes on numerous initiatives, none of which have been voted through apart from the one on Monday by one vote, it’s shambolic, it’s disgraceful to get honest with you.
Views and opinions, expressed in the article are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.
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