Mark Prisk ran his own business for 10 years before going into politics. Now he is the UK Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to the Nordic & Baltic nations and as such helps strengthen the trade links between the UK and Sweden. He spoke to the LINK about being in politics, working with Swedish companies and Brexit.
Mark is also a Conservative British Member of Parliament for Hertford & Stortford and said he wanted to get involved in politics whilst still in his teens but was encouraged by his parents to first get experience of “the real world”. “So, I worked in commercial real estate and urban regeneration and ran my own business for 10 years before getting elected to Parliament,” Mark said. “I strongly believe in personal freedom and responsibility; that we are all equal before the law; and that free enterprise and trade are vital for the UK to prosper. I wanted to put those principles into practice, by becoming an MP.
He was elected the Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy for the Nordic & Baltic nations in 2014 and Brazil in 2016. In that role he works to strengthen the trade links between the UK and the Nordics. Mark explained: “Sometimes this is about helping Nordic firms invest and work here in the UK and sometimes it’s about helping British firms export. I work alongside our Ambassadors and trade teams, in each country and in key sectors like food and drink, energy, life sciences, and the creative sectors.”
Mark said that the Nordic countries share an approach with Britain towards doing business: “down-to-earth, pragmatic, hard-working and clear but proportionate laws”. He added: “I have also been immensely impressed by the range of tech start-ups in fields like cleantech and fintech, in Sweden but also across the Nordic region. There’s a real sense of entrepreneurship.”
Brexit has of course had an impact on the way that the UK government is currently working. But Mark said the referendum has not necessarily changed his job, but it has made it more important. “Interestingly, foreign direct investment in the UK has not fallen, as some predicted. It rose again last year, the fifth year in a row, to a new record level. This is a real sign of confidence in the fundamental strengths of the UK economy. It shows that what businesses care about – such as a dynamic economy, robust IP rules, and a skilled and flexible workforce – isn’t limited to the terms of Brexit.”
However, as Britain is leaving the EU, the way that the UK trade with Sweden and other countries in the future will be different. Mark is however confident that the relationship between the two countries will remain the same. He said: “Having seen how Swedish businesses successfully operate in Norway, I feel sure that we will continue to enjoy good trade relations with each other. There will be a period of adjustment to get used to any new arrangements, and I am keen to ensure that Swedish firms here in the UK feel able to raise these with me and UK Ministers.”
Working closely with Swedish companies, Mark said he has seen some concerns about Brexit, mostly about practicalities such as future customs arrangements, regulatory standards and the availability of key staff. “Having run my own business, I understand this,” he said.
Mark said that different sectors have different priorities or concerns, but he wouldn’t say that any particular sector has come across as uniformly more or less optimistic about Brexit or the future outlook of trading in the UK. He said that organisations like the Swedish Chamber of Commerce can be “really valuable” in helping companies to network and to share know-how and experience of operating in this market.
Despite the uncertainty around Brexit, Mark believes that the UK is still a good market for foreign companies to establish. He said: “I would certainly encourage more Swedish firms to set up in the UK. We have a large and sophisticated consumer market, we’re recognised as one of the best places to start and grow a business, we have a flexible and well-educated workforce, our universities are world-class, underpinning R&D and innovation, and our low taxes on profits enable companies to reinvest successfully.” “Indeed, it’s why the UK remains the second most popular place in the world for companies to invest, outside the US.”