With David Cameron’s confirmation that a full in-out EU referendum will take place by the end of 2017, a once national anxiety has turned global, with “Brexit”- a British exit from the EU- quickly becoming a possible reality. The issue of Europe has, like with the Tory party itself, divided the nation, and despite the obvious lack of unanimous support, Cameron has still vowed to reshape Britain’s relationship with Europe.
Much of the controversy surrounding Brexit comes from the cloud of uncertainty which looms over the concept of a Britain outside of the European Union. Eurosceptics paint a rose coloured picture of non-membership life. Free from the restrictions of Brussels and membership fees, Brexit would allow Britain to become more prosperous; reversing immigration, reducing taxes and freeing the economy of membership burdens. Europhiles however paint Brexit as an event which will drastically affect British industries, cause economic uncertainty, job losses and the potential loss of London’s status as a world financial centre. Businesses reliant on Britain’s relationship with the EU are particularly concerned, stating that withdrawal will simply damage economic growth and hinder their ability to function.
What is clear is that two rivalling camps have developed in the media with the overarching theme being one of concern with a little hint of exaggeration mixed into the arguments on both sides. Therefore we at think bigger wanted to hear from real business experts on what their opinions were on the potential “Brexit”.
Co-founders of Hassle.com, Alex Depledge and Jules Coleman think, “A British exit from the EU would end the principle of free movement of workers within Europe. Much of the tech industry’s growth is a result of talented developers from across Europe not only filling in Britain’s skills gap, but passing on knowledge to local developers and helping the industry thrive. This talent pool would be put at risk with EU employees now living in Britain becoming subject to new visa and legal requirements.”
Peter Burgess, Director at London-based Retail Human Resources, a recruitment company specialising in the retail sector comments, “An exit would only be bad news for the UK and it will also cause massive economic upheaval in Europe and around the world; and we will be held responsible. Of course we will get a trade agreement but such an agreement will still require us to pay in. We will be in the same place we are in now but without a say on how the rules are made. There is very little up-side but potentially a devastating down side.”
James Poyser, co-founder of inniAccounts, an online accountancy state, “I think any trading business in the UK, from FTSE through to the sole trader, will want an end to uncertainty so they can plan their futures. A number of our clients have expressed concern that a break from the EU would undermine the network of SMEs and contractors that work in industries such as IT, science and engineering, and preclude them from the lucrative contracts they enjoy today. For small service businesses, such as rising independent software houses, the EU represents a large, accessible and straightforward market in which to do business: contrast this with the complexities of trading with Asia. That’s not to say some reform of EU policy wouldn’t be welcome. Take for example newly introduced EU place of supply VAT legislation. The goal of this policy may be praiseworthy – to prevent wholescale abuse of the tax system by multi-nationals, but the administrative impact can be crippling for a small business looking to export digital services to the EU.”
Interestingly, despite the colossal gap between the two differing sides of the argument, one point of agreement exists; if the UK does stay in the EU, reforms must be made. David Cameron’s mission for reform began in May at the EU Latvia Summit. It will be the successes or failures of these negotiations over the coming months which will determine the probability of “Brexit”. Arguably it is this uncertainty which has lead business owners to hold Europhilic viewpoints such as the ones above; preferring the known, to the uncertain. The big fear surrounds whether Britain will be able to negotiate access to the EU market if it left. For many, despite Cameron’s positive assertions, this is something that shouldn’t be messed with.