Few words in recent years have become as emotive as ‘Brexit’. For some The UK’s decision to leave the European Union (EU) is a matter of tremendous regret, for others a life affirming decision that should see Britain regain its sovereignty and be able to chart its own future. Certainly, the 2016 Brexit Referendum was a powerful exercise in democracy, one which has engaged communities and to some extend polarised them like no other issue for decades. In 2016 a majority of Britons voted for a path that will see the UK less focused on the EU and more likely to interact with the wider world. A key aspect of Brexit is the UK’s ability to sign its own trade deals, and as an independent country forge mutually beneficial partnerships across the globe. Herein lies the challenge, for there will need to be a lot of learning and much rediscovery. Knowledge and networks will be vital, and this is where Britain’s Bangladeshi Diaspora can play a positive role.
The UK has a Bangladeshi population in excess of 450,000 (2011 Census figures). This diaspora community is not only well established, but contains growing numbers of highly educated professionals, as well as a sizeable percentage of people who class themselves as entrepreneurs. Not only is this population one that is commercially savvy, it has good connections not only in Bangladesh, but much further afield. The Bangladeshi Diaspora possesses the drive and connections that are essential to a world beyond mere trading blocks. Brexit Britain needs to be lean, agile, prepared to innovate and be commercially minded. Gone are the days when British businesses could just rely on the low hanging fruit that were markets nearby. Globalisation requires adaptability coupled with market knowledge. The UK is thus fortunate to have in the Bangladeshi Diaspora a community who understand the dynamics of business, appreciate the importance of product, service and price and is not fearful of engaging in international trade.
For too long an ‘Us and Them’ situation has existed, one where the EU and the Rest of the World seemed at odds. Many Bangladeshis in the UK were rightly concerned that EU citizens were being given preferential treatment when compared with citizens from outside the EU, and Brexit affords the opportunity for a level playing field. With change comes a degree of uncertainty and there are some who are anxious of what Brexit might mean. Yet Bangladeshis are no strangers to adverse and challenging conditions, they come from a country struggled to gain its independence. Bangladeshis appreciate the importance of freedom and self-determination. Brexit presents an opportunity to enter new markets and do business in new and exciting ways. The world is changing, and with the UK exiting the EU it is worth noting that 15 of the remaining 27 EU countries are set to see their populations decline (www.populationpyramind.net). One EU state, Malta does not even have a population as large as Rajshahi, so it soon becomes apparent that over the coming decades the EU’s share of world trade is projected to decline year on year.
If Brexit Britain is to secure its future it will need to increase investment in Research & Development and become far more competitive in the export of its goods and services. Market knowledge and foresight will become ever more significant, and some in the Bangladeshi Diaspora are well placed to change attitudes about the opportunities stemming from Brexit. Currently, there are some who are fearful of what Brexit might mean for them and their families, and thus it is important that community leaders start to plan ahead and reassure people that they have little or nothing to fear. Quite the opposite in fact, they should be looking to capitalise on their knowledge, connections and experience. With Britain set to engage with the Commonwealth in a manner that it has not done for decades the Bangladeshi Diaspora is well placed to encourage and help UK businesses in their mission to think and act global.
The export drive is already underway with the UK Government’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) reporting that UK exports in the year to August 2018 being worth £637 billion. The Bangladeshi Diaspora can play its part by highlighting opportunities in Bangladesh and elsewhere. It is encouraging to hear of more and more Bangladeshi businesses in the UK visiting the Department for International Trade’s website: www.great.gov.uk and discovering how they might go about exporting to new markets. Similarly, there is a growing recognition of the value of networking across all communities and appreciating the value of the likes of Made in Britain (www.madeinbritain.org). Post-Brexit the UK seeks to be a beacon of free trade and should aspire to have lower levels of corporate taxation as a means to attract more inward Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). The voice of the Bangladeshi Diaspora needs to be heard, not just in Tower Hamlets, Westwood (Greater Manchester) or on Diaspora television channels, but in the mainstream. The Diaspora need to ensure that it articulates its message to elected representatives via www.writetothem.com and becomes much more active and vocal in organisations such as the Federation of Small Businesses (www.fsb.org.uk). Another important role that the UK’s Bangladeshi Diaspora can play is to help reassure those who are anxious about the change to the status quo. Those fearful of change would do well to read Who Moved My Cheese? By Spencer Johnson. As ever in business fortune favours the brave. Once the UK has left the EU it will not matter whether a person voted for Brexit or not, we all need to work together to forge a positive and purposeful future.
The UK is projected to remain the 6th largest economy in the world and is a superb location to do business. According to the World Bank it is ranked 7th out of 190 when it comes to the Ease of Doing. Business. London is the ranked Number One in World in the Global Power City Index (GPCI) 2018. Whilst there may be some turbulence when the UK finally leaves the EU, the prospects for Britain post-Brexit are promising. All communities should endeavour to play to their strengths, and work in a spirit of collaboration and partnership. The UK is greater than the sum of its parts, and yet there is much to learn from the Bangladeshi Diaspora. Brexit will enable Britain to steer its own course, and as it makes new history, we can be confident that the Bangladeshi Diaspora will be eager to play their part.
Dr P R Datta FCIM, FCMI
Executive Chair, Academy of Business & Retail Management, UK
Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Business and Retail Management Research
Mark T. Jones BA (Hons), FCILN
Editor-in-Chief – International Journal of Higher Education Management