A hard Brexit of the United Kingdom from the European Union would be “absolutely and utterly mad” for both sides and politicians who think otherwise need to “knock some sense into their heads,” jet-setting entrepreneur Richard Branson says.
In an interview with CBC’s On The Money, Branson called last year’s vote by Britons to leave the European Union “one of the saddest things that’s ever happened to Britain and to Europe,” and said that’s an almost unanimous view among the business community.
“I want to weep and I think … almost every single entrepreneur and business person wants to weep, too,” Branson said.
Branson said entrepreneurs like him are used to having problems thrown at them, and Brexit is just one more obstacle to overcome. “We’ve just got to get on and deal with it,” he said.
To Branson, one thing that means is trying to persuade governments to maintain as many trade links as possible as the U.K. and Europe negotiate thorny Article 50 discussions with European lawmakers.
Branson said he hopes to see business leaders putting “pressure on governments and knock some sense into their heads.”
No fan of Trump
But Brexit wasn’t the only topic to raise ire from the self-made billionaire.
Donald Trump was also a target, as Branson said it’s more important than ever for world and business leaders to avoid the impulse to be “sycophantic” and instead speak the truth to the U.S. president.
To illustrate why, he told the story of the first time he ever met Trump, at a lunch event years ago.
Trump, Branson said, had “just been bankrupt and he spent the whole lunch talking about five people who he’d asked for help who’d refused to help him — and how he was going to spend the rest of his life destroying those five people.”
The anecdote speaks to “the vindictive nature of this man,” Branson said. “He’s a dangerous individual.”
“The way he speaks about people, the way he talks about minority groups, the way he deals with climate change and so on,” Branson said, “they are palpably wrong therefore it would be morally wrong to try to kowtow to him.”
Branson is in Canada to bring attention to the Canadian Entrepreneurship Initiative, a partnership between private companies that’s aimed at giving funding and mentoring opportunities to Canadian entrepreneurs, especially women.
Branson’s Virgin group of companies have been involved in a similar program in Britain called Virgin StartUp, where the company helps nurture startup businesses with loans and mentorship.
“We went to the government and said ‘you give loans to people going to university and college but you don’t give loans to young people wanting to start businesses’,” Branson said, noting that 30,000 people have benefited from the British program.
“We hope we can persuade the Canadian government to do something similar.”