The new President of the UK Chamber of Shipping, Marcus Bowman, made a passionate defence of immigration today on his first day in office.
Speaking in his inaugural address to shipping leaders, Mr Bowman, who is South African and a partner at London maritime law firm Holman Fenwick Willan, said:
“The UK has been at the heart of world trade from the outset. But increasingly, the way we as a country debate our place in the modern world runs contrary to the internationalist approach of the shipping industry.
“As a South African, I came to the UK because it is the natural home for maritime law. Nowhere in the world would have offered me better career opportunities.
“Contrary to what we are sometimes told, the UK is a welcoming country for immigrants – particularly to the vast majority who contribute their skills, experience and knowledge for the betterment both of themselves, and of their adopted country. I would not be here if that was not the case.
“So we must not allow the immigration debate to descend into a slinging match.
“The UK’s status as a world leading maritime power will be diminished if companies cannot attract the brightest and best from around the world. If visas are too hard to come by, if training opportunities become too narrow, if we close our borders, then our days are numbered as an influential country.
“Immigration can be a good thing. An important thing. Yes we have to be careful, I understand that. But this country was made great because it looked outwards, because it confidently took its place in the world. If Government has an inward looking immigration policy, that cuts us off from the world, then we will lose sight of the big picture.”
The speech also called for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to work closer with the UK Chamber and its members to fully understand industry needs:
“The MCA could and should be a facilitator and ambassador for UK shipping. But before it can play that role, it needs to work much more closely with us on delivering its core objectives.
“It needs to listen to what our members tell us. Of how they need greater consistency across the country in the application of regulation. How it needs greater transparency to show why it takes the decisions it does. But above all it needs to be more commercially focused – understanding the needs of industry and acting accordingly. If it cannot do that by itself, it must follow the lead of its European counterparts and enlist the support of classification societies.
“Then it will have the tools it needs to get out there and promote the UK to the rest of the world. And the UK Chamber can help.
“Because we too have a responsibility to look out to the world and tell them – this is the place you need to be. This is the flag you need to fly. This is the country where your business should be based. This is the city where your needs will be met – with distinction, and with integrity.”
UK Chamber of Shipping, March 20, 2014