A little over a week after the EU referendum, my wife and I attended the leavers’ celebrations at my son’s school, which included the obligatory ball.

Colin Wilson

It was Middle England at its finest. My wife and I only knew one couple on our table. The rest were from a variety of European countries, among them Germany, Spain and France.

I engaged the chap next to me with small talk. It transpired that this German man was a doctor whose Spanish wife was also a doctor practicing in Germany. After briefly discussing their jobs, I was intrigued as to what language they spoke at home. Ah, he said, that’s French!

They’d met in Brussels and at that stage he spoke no Spanish and she spoke no German, so they could only converse in their common language of French.


The result is that they now have two children fluent in French, German, Spanish and English. I should add that he apologised more than once for his poor English - which was quite unnecessary given that he was able to communicate on all the above subjects without hesitation or repetition. I speak no German!

His experiences, and the fact that he could so readily articulate them, resonated strongly with me so soon after the EU referendum, highlighting two things in particular.

Firstly, the importance of maintaining strong bonds with our European neighbours. And secondly, the opportunities that a co-operating Europe can give to future generations, who will experience the consequences of how our relations with Europe develop.

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I am not looking to cast any doubt or negative opinion over the outcome of the recent referendum. With the decision now made, we must move forward purposefully through the mechanics and implementation of a satisfactory exit from the European Union.

The swift appointment of Theresa May as prime minister, and then her cabinet, has undoubtedly helped this process by removing the decision-making vacuum that marked the early days after the vote and which could have stretched ahead for months.

In a business sense, there are many institutions and markets that have come to make the UK a great place to do business.

There are skills and working practices, whether in manufacturing or services, that are the gold standard for many sectors. However, we operate in a global economy and we need to make sure that nothing impairs our ability to engage in that ‘international’ way. Trade agreements are one thing, but facilitating the cross-pollination of ideas and cultures will only serve to enrich our offer to the world rather than restrict it.

Real estate has seen massive globalisation in the last 20 or so years. This is not just a London phenomenon.

My company Cushman & Wakefield, along with many firms in the real estate world, employs a rich mix of global talent. Our clients undoubtedly derive benefit from the perspectives that this delivers. But above all our talent benefits from the opportunity to broaden horizons and life experiences.

My plea to the politicians and mandarins in charge of our next steps in Europe is to regain the control that they have been mandated to secure - but not at the expense of cultural and personal diversity which can only complement our global status.

Colin Wilson is Head of UK & Ireland at Cushman & Wakefield