“Why would we ever want to lose that?” Richard Branson on the diversity and openness of pre-Brexit Britain

Tycoon gloom.
Tycoon gloom.
Image: Reuters/Lucas Jackson
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UK billionaire Richard Branson built the global Virgin brand while projecting ebullient optimism. Shirt unbuttoned, sun-bleached hair flowing, Branson appears as if he’s just stepped off the deck of his yacht, waiting for someone to hand him a piña coloda—the very picture of a man who lets others do the worrying for him.

But Branson sounds deeply concerned right now about the direction of Britain as it adjusts to the reality of its vote for Brexit. He notes on his blog today (Oct. 11) that UK home secretary Amber Rudd has recently proposed that UK employers report how many of their workers are foreigners, and that UK prime minister Theresa May has recently said that citizens of the world are really “citizens of nowhere” who don’t understand what citizenship means.

For Branson, the rhetoric is worrisome, and suggests that the UK will be forced to make a choice “between Britain and the rest of Europe or the world.” He writes:

Modern-day Britain is an amazing, if not unmatched, hub of creativity and innovation built not simply on British ingenuity, but on the collective embrace of diversity as a major asset. That’s the Britain I grew my businesses in. Why would we ever want to lose that?

As a result of Brexit, the UK’s economy has already fallen behind that of its ancient rival, France, Branson writes, and there could be worse to come if the country pursues the “Hard Brexit” of closing its borders and making a sudden departure from the EU. The pound has fallen 18% against the US dollar since the vote, as currency traders forecast an economic slump.

The plummeting pound has been good news for UK business that sell products abroad, and the British stock market has soared as a result. Branson isn’t cheering.