Our future is global and there are huge trade and investment opportunities for British business in Sierra Leone

Our future is global and there are huge trade and investment opportunities for British business in Sierra Leone

On Monday night I had an energising, heartening look at what Britain’s global future will be outside the European Union. That is to say, what our future will be if Theresa May is not allowed to betray Brexit and keep us tied to into a customs union – because if she does that, Britain will be blocked from negotiating its own international trade agreements.

But on Monday night, I put that fear aside and what I saw instead was a glimpse of the opportunities British trade and investment will have if we become free at last. This came when I had the honour and privilege to be host at a dinner for the President of Sierra Leone, His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio and his leading government ministers, at the European Parliament.

President Bio, who only recently took office, is determined to clear out the corruption which stained earlier governments in Sierra Leone. Indeed, at the dinner, President Bio’s Attorney General told me that those involved in corruption in previous administrations will be brought to justice for their shameful neglect of the people.

The dinner gave me and a delegation of MEPs – as well as the Ambassador from Britain to the EU and key business representatives – the chance to reach out to a nation which is undergoing immense change and looking outward – in line and in tune with Britain once it breaks free of the EU.

Sierra Leone is exactly the sort of new, young and growing market to which the UK must turn. It is home to the oldest African university, based in Freetown. Those who have access are among the most educated people on the African continent, yet 70 percent of children in Sierra Leone cannot read or write. President Bio will not tolerate this. Just a few days ago he was at the African Industry Transparency Initiative Conference in Dakar, Senegal. He emphasised the plans of his government to educate two million of his country’s children. He calls this “human capital investment.”

The country is rich in natural resources but the people have not yet benefited from them. Rather, the riches have lined the pockets of rogue investors with no loyalty or interest in the future of the country or its people.

President Bio, an American-educated, Western-looking leader, made it clear to all of us he met in Brussels that he will end this injustice. He wants investors who mean business – not corruption, and not political influence, but business. In particular, he intends to stop attempts by China to gain influence in his country. Recently a £500m airport deal signed between the previous administration and Chinese investors was cancelled. President Bio’s Government has no further plans to negotiate with the Chinese.  He would rather talk to us.

Opportunities for partnerships with British business are huge. For example, the main power station for Freetown suffers intermittent power loss, leaving everyone entirely off-grid. Someone from the UK ought to be in Freetown right now to see what needs to be done and just how a British company can do it.

The same goes for tourism along the country’s magnificent beaches, manufacturing possibilities, mining for minerals and diamonds, and agriculture and fisheries. All can gain in particular from inward British investment. That should be no surprise: Sierra Leone is a Commonwealth country and an English-speaking country whose laws are in large part based on our own Common Law.

We succeeded on Monday in bringing together people who want the same things for their countries. Diplomatic and business ties are crucial now for both Britain and Sierra Leone; this event was not just an ordinary dinner. That is why I will be following through and acting quickly. President Bio has now invited me to visit Sierra Leone later this month and I look forward immensely both to being a part of this adventure and developing the business and investment opportunities of our countries further.

On Monday I saw our future, and it’s global.