It only took six years to put a man on the moon from conception to delivery

*This speech was given at the Northern Ireland Manufacturers and Supply Chain Conference

Once upon a time, there was a man of Irish descent, who in January 1961, became the President of the United States of America.

In September 1962, he addressed an audience of an estimated 40,ooo at Rice Field Stadium in Houston, Texas. He gave his now famous speech in which he expressed the plan to go to the moon.

In what is now known as the ‘We choose to go to the Moon’ speech , John F Kennedy characterised space as being the ‘new frontier’ – invoking a strong sense of the ‘pioneer spirit’ that dominated American history and folklore.

He infused the speech with a sense of urgency and destiny. He emphasised the freedom of Americans to choose their destiny rather than having it chosen for them. He championed the need to push forward with the technological developments required to achieve this destiny.

In July 1969 – 50 years ago this year – and just over 6 years after his famous speech, the pledge was kept and Man stood on the Moon.

In January 2013, a man of English descent was serving a Prime Minister of the UK and gave a much anticipated speech.

In this speech, David Cameron – publicly at least, wanted to be seen to protect the UK financial services market –and he outlined what he saw as the challenges faced by the European Union.

In reality, his party was under pressure from the rise in support for the UKIP party. For Tory MPs facing re-election this looked ominous. They were worried, not that Ukip would take their seats but they would take enough of their votes to hand victory to Labour.

In private, they demanded that the Prime Minister give them something in their armoury to fight off the challenge – and that something was an EU referendum. The main reason is that Mr Cameron thought it would never happen. He calculated that Labour under Ed Miliband would not back the plan and the Lib Dems were passionately opposed. Back in 2013 no senior Tory – including Mr Cameron – realistically thought they had a chance of winning an overall majority in 2015 and that another Coalition was likely.

That being the case, most people believed that the referendum pledge would be the first thing to go in Coalition talks. It didn’t. And so, in January 2013, in what is now known as the Bloomberg speech, Mr Cameron made his fateful pledge of an in/out referendum if the Conservatives won the 2015 election.

In June 2016 his government delivered the pledged Referendum.

In March 2013 – 6 and bit years after the famous speech, the pledge will be delivered and the UK will leave the EU.

Let us now do a direct comparison.

One project delivered its goal in six years, cost 40 billion, put a man on the Moon and defined and ignited a generation.

The other, still not delivered in six years, has divided generations.

In the Kennedy scenario, the rhetoric was strong, unifying and focused on enabling technology. Technology is embraced. If answers were not known, they were sought from business.

Business was embraced and expertise engaged. The results are clear to see.

In the Cameron scenario, the elected few operate in an arrogant vacuum, ignoring advice, deriding business, demeaning the electorate, and working in ignorance and isolation of technology.

There is an unsweet irony here. In a world of surging technological development and the explosion of the ‘Internet of Things’, toxic and divisive party political soundbites have been become headlines in minutes. Those headlines become global facts in hours.

Our Parliamentary process has allowed this same technology to become the means to misdirect, misinform and manipulate. At worst, it highlights the self-serving focus of our political system. At best, it highlights the enormous gulf between policy making and the real, commercial world in which we all strive.

In the meantime, our economy remains stagnant, our prospects for growth bleak. Dithering decision making and divisive rhetoric rules the day. In the meantime, businesses like ours are looking to the future – seeking to plan, raise investment and to drive sales.

One of the MOST significant barriers, we are told is that of the Irish Border with Northern Ireland.

This 310 mile squiggle between Loch Foyle in the North to Carlingford Loch in the East, we are told, presents a significant issue to progress.

There are over 5000 businesses selling goods and services over the border every day in trade worth over £2.7 Billion . They strive, as well do, to continue to serve our customers and fight on despite over 2 years of uncertainty and vague governmental guidance.

In the Irish Times a few weeks ago was the story of a 3rd generation dairy farmer who is concerned about whether he can continue to guarantee the freshness of his produce.  He reads the headlines in which Chancellor Philip Hammond states there will be 6 hour delays at the border. He has no delays currently. The uncertainty rubs off on his bank, who won’t advance long held lines of credit. It rubs off on his customers who are unsure whether or not they can continue to purchase his produce. It is killing his business –three generations of successful business.

But what is the truth behind these questions and this uncertainty? Is there really no solution apart from a border in the Irish Sea or the backstop?

I want to look at these mistruths.

  1. THE TECHNOLOGY DOESN’T EXIST. We’ve heard this so many times. Tell that to HSBC who last year used so called Blockchain technology to complete over $250 BILLION in foreign exchange trades.
  2. THE TECHNOLOGY DOESN’T WORK – Tell that to the folk on the Norway / Sweden border – which is five times the length of the Irish border and equally sub-urban – yet that may manage with no delays and only 14 border posts across 1600 miles of border!
  3. SPS ISSUES ARE THE ISSUE . Well, tell that to the NASA engineers – who, let us remember – were able to monitor, in real-time, the respiration rate, heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature etc of Neil Armstrong and his chums, at a distance of 225 thousand miles – FIFTY YEARS ago. To suggest that technology cannot measure the key health indicators of a truck load of sheep being driven along the M2. Tell that also to my own business which next month will be electronically tagging ONE MILLION food plant stocks which will enable them to be traced with absolute certainty from origin to plate. Tell that also to the equine industry, where technology already exists to measure in real-time to SPS measures for race horses. Via a mobile phone app.
  4. TAX COLLECTION ISSUES. Tell that to anyone who has a bank account. In the real world, there are few physical banks on the High Street anymore they exist in our mobile phones and our computers. This means that in reality the point of taxation can be virtual too – there is no need to stop and check every consignment. And tell that same issue to the CURRENT EU regime which permits 96% of non-EU goods crossing the border to NOT be physically inspected. WHY does this need to change?

Lets remind ourselves how vital and vibrant this Border has become. During The Troubles, there were only TWENTY border crossing points. Today there are well over 200 – more, for example, than exist between Canada and the USA.

WHY would we want to go back to the old ways, when the truth is, there IS a tech solution?

Let’s go back to the time of the Apollo missions once again. In the 1960’s Star Trek wowed audiences with science fiction. Such is the pace of change, much of that fiction is now SCIENCE FACT.

What we need now is our own JFK moment to break through the mess our current parliamentary processes has created.

At the very time that we have a genuine once in a lifetime opportunity to show case what UK and Irish business talent really can do – what it is capable of – we seem to be stuck in a mess of politics. It’s time to break free.

We can operate genuinely frictionless trade borders which permit a HIGHER degree of security and assurance than now, whilst protecting the wonderful progress that has been made in recent decades.

I challenge ANY of the elected few to step off the bridge of ‘Starship Brexit’ and to come and join us in the real world, so see what can really be done.

Thank you.