BY ANTHONY SEDZRO
After 52 per cent of Britons voted to leave the European Union (EU) on June 23, many foreigners living in the United Kingdom (UK) feared a backlash. A surgeon of Indian-descent said a patient asked if she could help him (the doctor) pack his bags; a Pakistani man said racial abuse was hurled at him in the street; and a Polish community centre had racist graffiti painted on its wall.
Anti-immigrant rhetoric, a key campaign message of the ‘Brexiters’, had increased in a kingdom respected for its racial diversity. Many also fear Britain will tighten its immigration policy after Brexit. Jon Benjamin, the British High Commissioner to Ghana, has said Brexit has not changed the UK’s immigration policy, despite rumours of same.
“There’s been no change so far in our immigration policy. There’s been lots of untrue rumours of people saying on one hand it’s going to get difficult [to get visas], on the other hand social media rumours that we no longer require visas for Ghana. None of that is true, nothing has changed,” Benjamin said. He continued: “The conditions for Ghanaian nationals to get a visa are the same and I don’t personally see them changing. The reasons [for granting a visa] are: what are the genuine reasons for visiting, do they have the financial means to support themselves, and are they likely to return to Ghana after their stay in the UK. These are the three basic conditions, they have not formally changed and I have not seen anything informal to suggest that is going to change. We don’t discourage anyone from travelling. But we have clear conditions.”
A networking reception
Benjamin said these to GB&F at a networking reception held at his residence in Accra for some British companies that were on a trade visit on September 29. The visit, which was organised by UK’s Department for International Trade (DIT), was called an “Energy, Infrastructure and Skills & Training” market visit. The business delegation had earlier visited Lagos, Nigeria. The visit is partly funded by the European Regional Development Fund’s (ERDF) Global Growth Project. The British companies on the trip, mainly from London, visited with a view to establishing long-term business relations with their Ghanaian counterparts.
Benjamin said contrary to popular opinion, the High Commission grants more visas than it refuses. “We are quite open about the trends [of visa applications]. So for last year, in broad terms you are talking about a bit over 30,000 Ghanaians applied for visas and we approved a little bit under 60 per cent and we refused a little bit over 40 per cent. So we approve and accept more than we refuse,” he revealed. He said Britain welcomes Ghanaians travelling to that country which has historically integrated foreigners. “We’ve got 65 to 66 million people and we are pro-migration. If you look at the population of Britain, [we have] huge diasporas from all over the world … nearly two in five of everybody who lives in London was born outside the UK, not just outside London,” he disclosed. Furthermore, he said Britain’s population diversity is unmatched and explained why: “It’s demonstrably the case that we welcome diversity and migration but it can’t be unlimited. So we have to have controls and as I explained we have conditions you have to fulfil and once you fulfil them, you get the visa … but we have people who we give a visa to who then never come back and turn into illegal immigrants … But we have an open country, we are a global country, everyone can see that London is arguably the most diverse city on the planet more than New York.”
With Britain voting to leave the EU, analysts say it will have to negotiate trade deals with individual countries, significantly impacting Britain’s trade volumes with Africa, particularly Ghana. This means if the British economy contracts, African countries will see reduced trade and development aid. Carl Woolf, the International Trade Advisor, UK Trade & Investment (London office), was the head of the trade mission. GB&F asked Woolf about the impact of Brexit on trade. “The answer to the question really is that it’s far too early to say. The referendum is only three months ago, we don’t know what the full impact is going to be for the UK, Europe or for Commonwealth Africa. We still are trying to take in what the implications are of the vote. I think things will develop overtime. We’re still going to be a member of the European Union for the next two years until we can negotiate our way out of the EU. There is a lot of opposition in the UK to Brexit, of course, it was a very narrow vote, 48 per cent to 52 per cent.” However, if Britain finally exits the EU, Woolf thinks the bargaining chip will not be the same. “Given that we were a member of a 28-member club, and we are now by ourselves, I think the implication speaks for themselves,” he said.
Woolf informed GB&F of the rationale for the visit: “What we hope is that the companies which have come here on the trade mission will eventually establish good relations in Ghana and possibly establish an office in Ghana in which case they can employ Ghanaians to work for those companies. These are not big, multi-major companies, they are SMEs.“
Tell of the impact
High Commissioner Benjamin also thought its early days yet to tell of the impact. He explained: “I think the honest answer right now, three months after Brexit, is nothing. Very little [impact], this isn’t just an excuse but nothing yet has changed. The UK at the moment is still a full member of the European Union; it hasn’t yet triggered the mechanism to leave the EU. There is no confirmation as to when it will happen. It may happen next year and then there is a process of up to two years, which can be extended for that to happen. And so that is ahead of us and the question you’re asking is really more applicable to next year than this year.” He added: “In the meantime, it is difficult to say whether there has been positive or negative or neutral effect because you know there is always a time lag, trade and investment statistics always come out a year or so after so it’s too soon to tell. But when the UK does leave the EU, and we will leave the EU, the trade offer for Ghana, I think, certainly won’t be any worse than the current EU-Ghana relationship like the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). It may be better, that all ought to be negotiated.”
Nigel Mount, the Director of Mount Laboratories UK Limited, one of the companies on the trip is involved in the export of scientific and laboratory equipment to some African countries. Mount said Brexit has been good for his business. “For me, it’s [Brexit] been quite helpful because the [British] Pound has devalued in comparison with the other currencies like the Euro and the United States dollar. So my price has become more competitive for customers. My price is a little bit cheaper considering I’m coming up with a high quality equipment. So the Brexit for me, has done no harm at all, it has been helpful in that respect.” Mount, however, explained that Britain exiting the EU would be a long process and subsequent trade negotiations would not upset the status quo so much.
“So it’s going to be a long process but quite frankly UK imports a lot from Germany, for instance, Volkswagen cars. They (Germany) are not going to upset things because we import more than they import from us so they got more to lose if they put a stumbling block in the way. I think this is the realisation that is happening worldwide at the moment, because all the scare-mongering that you had before which you’ve probably seen in the English newspapers have not proved true at all. So it’s early days yet but I think it will be in the New Year before things start happening,” Mount explained.
A positive outlook
Other members of the trade mission had a positive outlook of Brexit for their businesses. “There is nowhere you go in the world and when you say ‘Made-In-UK’, a product will be wrong for you. Quality and affordability are associated with UK products so Brexit, in my view, will only bring new business for us. More British businesses want to do business with Africa and vice versa. So Brexit rather presents more opportunities for us,” said Adebola Durojaiye, Project Manager of London-based Newspace Communications. Mandy Low, Finance & Operations Director, SynergICT, a company that is into the supply of power-protection systems and renewable energy, did not see Brexit as having any negative effect on their quest to do business in Ghana and Nigeria. “No effect at all. Business is always business and as an entrepreneur, when you have any issue just like Brexit, you just tackle it in a different way but you always find a solution to any problem,” Low assured.
The Ghana leg of the trade visit was sponsored by indigenous bank, The Royal Bank. Dr Kwame Baah-Nuakoh, the bank’s Senior Vice President, Marketing, Research & Corporate Affairs, disclosed why they sponsored the visit. “The Royal Bank, at the last Ghana Banking Awards, was adjudged the best bank in Enterprise & Corporate Banking. This means we are very much interested in what our clients do, these interactions afford us the opportunity to look at what is going to happen. These are guys [UK trade mission] looking for opportunities to invest in the Ghanaian economy. So if we can get to speak and interact with them this early before they decide to finally come in, they’re already aware there is bank which is strategically positioned to meet their needs so they know what The Royal Bank stands for and what we can do for them. It’s not even for the bank, it’s also for our clients, we have business partners in Ghana and it is when our clients are doing well that the bank also does well,” Baah-Nuakoh intimated to GB&F.