28 Jun 2016
The natural reaction to an event of the scale of last week’s is to look for quick reassurance and make plans to respond.
For the majority - but certainly not all - of Chamber members, the decision that the UK should leave the European Union is not what they wanted.
Throughout the referendum campaign I met member after member almost desperate for a period of stability, calm and a chance to plan ahead with certainty. Business bodies are always calling for certainty. The last thing we have now is certainty.
The Chamber’s first reaction then would naturally be to call for the political classes to work quickly and chart the path ahead. And of course we have heard from the Governor of the Bank of England and the Chancellor about the measures they are taking to secure some calm.
But we are in a new world. We can’t now conceivably know what that new world will look like until new leaderships are created and endorsed and new models of international trading and investment relationships debated and negotiated. Realistically that will take months at the very least and even years in all probability.
So whilst we must do all we can to protect trade and investment it is also true that we should take time to reflect on what has happened, what we have learnt and what we must now do to build our economy.
One of the advantages of participating in an organisation as old as Glasgow Chamber is that there is usually some history to lean on and on this occasion it isn’t hard to find. The Chamber came into being in 1783 because Glasgow merchants felt powerless in the face of the closure of their crucial trade links with North America following the American War of Independence. They wanted to come together to make their views more effectively known to take action to grow new trading relationships, and reinvigorate the old ones too if possible.
Today we don’t face the immediate loss of our trading connections with Europe as we did with our American markets in 1783, and we can advise and urge that a sensible deal is reached to maintain those connections in the years ahead.
The Chamber throughout its history has argued against barriers to trade; free trade has always been the founding principle. Attacking the monopoly of the East India Company’s Charter in India and warm support for Robert Peel’s abolition of the Corn Laws are but two examples of campaigns the Chamber has fought. Every incidence of trade tariffs on goods has been challenged along the way.
So arguably the purpose of the original Glasgow Chamber of Commerce and Manufactures is reborn once more. In any event that is how Glasgow Chamber will respond.
In the short term we will do what we can to help avoid any disruption in investment. We will work with the partners across the city to make as strong a case as possible to keep investment flowing into Glasgow and continue to actively engage with policy makers to help shape the new world.
We will also work hard to maintain our trading relationships with Europe and grow those elsewhere in the world. Indeed last month we signed an agreement with Manhattan Chamber of Commerce to do just that and we are working on further such agreements in the months ahead.
There are Chambers in just about every country in Europe and we will do our bit to get the message out that we value our trade with Europe and want to see it grow.
This is exactly the time when organisations like ours must prove their worth. With your help we aim to do just that. Please let us know if there are issues, deals or relationships which are affected by last week’s decision and how you would like to see the terms of trade with Europe and the rest of the world structured in the years ahead.