On January 1 2021, the UK officially departed from the EU and questions still linger as to what a post-Brexit Britain means for its trading partners, in particular Africa. Shaun Bailey, the Conservative Candidate for Mayor of London discussed the opportunities that Brexit presents for UK-Africa relations and how those within the African diaspora in London can help to strengthen the bilateral relationship.
In January, the UK – Africa Investment Summit took place in London. African leaders in attendance looked for reassurance that Africa will be higher up on the government’s list of priorities than in time past. Also, in light of Brexit, there is a renewed sense of hope that there will be greater scope for more open trade, investment and opportunities in general.
What’s the Mayor’s stance on this?
For me as the Mayor of London, Africa will be high up on the agenda for two reasons:
One is purely potential – Africa has some of the fastest growing economies in the world and London has some of the best business contacts so I would love to move those two things closer together.
And of course, we have such a big African diaspora here, there is a lot of expertise, knowledge and a lot of people we could be turning to, to make that happen. I will always be looking for the expertise to maximise opportunities so for me, it feels like a great thing and we just need to find a way of doing it as quickly as possible.
So, you will be making sure that you tap into the expertise that exists within the African diaspora here?
Well listen if you don’t do that, you’re a fool, you have all this expertise, all these connections both business and personal at your disposal – you’ve got to use them because that’s how you get things to happen quickly and efficiently as well.
The Commonwealth remains popular but there is a big demand for the UK to be more visible and present (commercially and politically) in non-Anglophone countries. How will your mayoralty meet this demand?
If you look at the government’s ‘Global Britain’ plan, what I will be doing within that as Mayor of London is making sure we reach out to everyone. One of the advantages of being in London is that we fit at the centre of many things from a time zone perspective as well as a legal perspective, much of the world’s business is done in English too so we should be using that to reach out to everyone.
Brexit has happened and if you are a leaver or a remainer, what we do know is, we need to maximise the potential.And that means looking for new connections as well as building older connections. I will be having a Deputy Mayor for International Trade and this is the kind of task I will set them to. I will be putting them out into the world to find those connections in any country that has an interesting proposition to develop and also giving people within London the ability to make connections that they haven’t made before.
There is a lot of trade potential around the world and my Deputy Mayor for International Trade will act as a gateway, helping people in London to understand what exists.
Deputy Mayor for International Trade – we haven’t typically had this position before if I am not mistaken?
No we haven’t, like you said Brexit has happened. Africa and all the world’s nations are looking for what their new relationship will be. I think as Mayor of London, I will be a very big voice in forming that relationship and that means getting someone who is from the City, who is not a politician, and this is very important. We need to get someone who is a real business person, a real doer and has a footprint in the environment, and I will be giving them the platform to develop it.
How do you intend to re-connect with young people in Africa, who are increasingly looking elsewhere, aside from the UK for education, business and workpurposes?
Within the Nigerian community for example there are huge swathes of millennials heading to Canada because of the skills-based immigration policies are attractive.
I think it’s one of the most serious challenges facing London. London has worked for 1500 years because it is based on wealth creation and wealth creation is based on talent, so you have to keep that talent pipeline going. Sothere are a couple of things:
Firstly, lobby the government to make sure they improve the student visa process, make it less difficult for students from Africa to apply here because as I say African markets are growing because of an African knowledge base and just the sheer talent in their business pool is growing and we want to be part of that growth. So that means making sure the students that come here to study – stay, work and build their businesses here rather than elsewhere.
Also send a message that ‘London Is Open’ and we are welcoming to people from Africa and beyond.
The third piece is to show that unlike my opponent, I am not obsessed with nationalisation and rent controls which send the wrong message – I think things like that send a message that business will be regulated to death in this environment and what we want is fair and steady regulation. I want to send a message across the world and to Africa in particular, that we are open for business and we are looking for people who are entrepreneurial, who are innovators – come here and we will give you the platform to succeed.
The African diaspora represents a significant proportion of the population in London. They are increasingly more active, engaged and vocal in terms of the domestic affairs back home. What is your message to them?
The growing consciousness of millennials in the African diaspora is a good thing and they should keep it going. If they are going to change the world, if they are going to lend their talent to improve things, then they need to be politically involved, business involved, and I will give them the platform and time more importantly to have the conversation to develop themselves.
Separate from that, it’s a huge priority for me that the African community is well represented in the health arena – public health within Britain really needs improvement and if you look at health workers within London, many of them are African. If you look at how COVID-19 affected us, we were affected more than most. Let’s have that conversation about how we improve public health with African health professionals, let’s use their expertise and contacts.
Also how do we build businesses here that can be used in Africa around health? All of these things are important for the confidence, footprint and the success of London but also the African community. I am also going to be opening 32 youth hubs and using 4000 youth workers – let’s make sure that some of those are African as well so that young people benefit from that cultural learning that’s journeyed all the way from Africa.
When I start this youth project which is a continuation of my 20 plus years in youth work, I do this by having a good social, racial and international mix then everybody in London becomes more sophisticated. The African diaspora has a lot to teach London about how a community survives, how it becomes entrepreneurial and they’re the kind of things I hope to spread through my youth work and also through connecting people in business as well.
As Mayor of London, you typically work collaboratively with a number of key stakeholders locally to make sure the city runs effectively. The Mayor very much plays that of an influencing role, helping to set the strategic direction for London.
How do you intend to open this up on an international scale to advance the strong ties that exist for example between the UK and major African economies such as Nigeria and South Africa?
There are a number of things, firstly in addition to theDeputy Mayor for International Trade, I’ll also have a Deputy Mayor for Business and a Deputy Mayor for Hospitality. The reason I want to do that is to make sure that business is well represented in City Hall, to make sure there is a big footprint and people can easily feed in their experiences. That way, we can very quickly refine best practice so that no part of the business arena, both national and international feels that it cannot speak to the Mayor quickly and directly.
The second piece is to champion London business around the world and that means physically visiting Nigeria, South Africa – the big African economies to show that we are open for business, let’s sit down, lets convene, lets figure out how we can mutually build something together. I think the building of something together shows a respect, you build that thing more quickly where people trust and understand that they are not taking advantage. By running these trade missions, we start to develop things that Africa needs – give Africa access to what we have plenty of; we have plenty of finance and the like and lots of innovative financial products.
How do we make sure that Africa can use those products as well to build infrastructure, to build hospitals, schools, whatever it wants? Let’s have that conversation. How do we make sure that Africans feel like the UK in particular London feels like a place that they can just casually visit, can casually set up a business, it has to be a long term relationship there and I will be seeking to do that and of course UK based African people are front seat to help that process grow because they have an understanding of their home. They can relay information directly to us about any hurdles and then I can make the changes that needs to be made because ultimately the job of the Mayor of London is to the bang the drum for London worldwide to make sure that people understand that ‘London Is Open’ for business, it’s a welcoming place. If you put in the work, we have the platform for you to be successful and that all comes down to a Mayor who is showing leadership and facing London’s good and bad points and getting on with it and that’s exactly what I’ll be doing.
Within the business sector, it is suggested that there are a number of key components that African development is dependent upon. This includes:• Creating investable infrastructure assets• Improving access to capital • Promoting financial inclusion • And developing an enabling and compliance-based environment for business.
Does your mayoralty address any of these?
There is nothing on the list that London doesn’t need to do as well. We need to improve our transport network. I myself will be starting an infrastructure bank based on the KFW model from Germany as to leverage public funds but we could be a test case for Africa; African businesses can invest in that bank if they want to, they can replicate the system anywhere in Africa, South Africa, Nigeria…wherever and I know this to be a fact because the British government have just said that they are going to replicate the model to do a national infrastructure bank.
Improving access to capital – being able to pitch to the right people. One the things I will be using my Deputy Mayor for Business for is to provide pitching platforms so we can go to the pension funds of this world and say we will put on an event where you could be pitched to by several different companies in any given arena from at home and abroad – host it in London, virtually or physically and that’s how London can use the convening power of the Mayor, to get finance into our communities, because often its ourcommunities both internationally and also in London who can’t get finance for very good business ideas. Let’s change that around.
The other piece of course is giving our young people access to information that increases their business understanding so they can then go on and form companies and have their ideas financed. As Mayor that means looking to create environments to unleash creativity and commercialism; right down to the community level, who has a good idea that needs financing and who at the very top of the tree needs to find those ideas, let me act as the middleman and put everybody together to make that activity happen.
(Reported by Ola Owojori)