BREXIT: Should we stay or should we go?

Growing Business spoke to small business owners to find out whether they're for or against Britain leaving the EU. Here's what they had to say...

Britain’s potential exit from the European Union (EU) – a Brexit – remains a highly contentious subject and a series of questions continue to be debated in the press.

Would a Brexit be good or bad for business? Would it have a negative or positive impact on exports and imports? What would a Brexit actually mean for small and medium enterprises?

In a recent poll, Britain’s small businesses were found to be divided over EU membership and many appeared sceptical of the benefits of remaining in the EU. Yet, on the flip side, several high-profile entrepreneurs have publicly stated that a Brexit could “kill business confidence” and have a negative impact on fast-growth companies.

But just what do the country’s small business owners actually think about the prospect of a Brexit? To find out, Growing Business spoke to a handful of small business founders to get their views on whether Britain should stay or go. As you’ll see below, there was a mixed bag of responses…

Stay

Sarah Lafferty, director and co-founder of communications firm Round Earth Consulting, says she is “so against a Brexit” that she finds it hard to unpack her thoughts and doesn’t think we should revert to “Little Britain”:

“As a small business whose German co-founder is based in Madrid and whose client base includes companies based in Norway, the Netherlands, Munich and the UK, I don’t even like to contemplate a Brexit and abhor the uncertainty the referendum is creating.

“My fears range from ‘potentially fatal to my business’ to annoying inconveniences such as:

    • Will I have to change the structure of my business?
    • Will it result in trade restrictions or added financial costs?
    • Will I struggle to recruit people/contractors with the right knowledge and language skills?
    • Will I have to spend hours in the non-EU queue in the airport every time I take a day trip to Holland?

“I don’t see any upside. Of course we’ll still be subject to EU regulation if we want to continue to trade with EU countries, so that doesn’t magically fall away – but our ability to shape them does – so we get the worst of both worlds. I have never found our existing health and safety or employee regulations particularly onerous, so the dim prospect of having these reduced is neither here nor there to me. Brexit would almost certainly trigger another independence referendum in Scotland, which would likely result in the breakup of the UK – another grim prospect. As global markets become increasingly competitive, the last thing we need to do is revert to ‘Little Britain’. The most exciting aspect of owning a business in London is the diversity of people and ideas and the ease of doing business with our European neighbours. It would be tragic to throw this valuable asset away.”

Brazilian-born Rafael Dos Santos moved to the UK a decade ago and is just about to launch a London workspace start-up called MiHub. De Santos told Growing Business that he believes Britain should stay in the EU for a number of reasons: 

  • “Freedom of movement, so people can come and go freely
  • Open market: it’s easy for people to do business in other countries
  • EU migrants can come to the UK and set up businesses which generates jobs and helps the local economy
  • Imports/exports: a lot of EU migrants set up businesses in Britain linked to their own country (food, clothes, games, etc)
  • By being in the EU, Britain benefits from importing/exporting tax free
  • EU migrants bring diversity, more contacts, more networking opportunities and more skills.
  • British nationals benefit from businesses linked to culture as they set up companies here i.e. French language classes, Italian restaurants, Polish builders, German engineers.”

Martin Campbell, managing director of fintech start-up Ormsby Street, believes the EU is an important factor for small business growth:

“Being part of Europe gives British businesses access to a fantastic talent pool at an affordable price and the free movement of labour really works for many small businesses.

“Some small and medium businesses retain the identity of their local area, and migration can challenge that, but such businesses are not really materially affected. Many small businesses are only ‘small’ because they are starting out – they want to reach new markets, grow and become bigger businesses. Anything that puts the brakes on growth cannot be a good thing, so trade barriers should be kept down, especially in tech.”

Go

Neil Westwood, co-founder of Magic Whiteboard, thinks that a Brexit would be an “exciting opportunity” and will “make very little difference” to small businesses like his:

“It is an exciting opportunity to leave. Countries will still trade with each other and less money will be wasted. Larger companies may have a different view because they depend of EU laws for contracts and big companies lobby the EU to change laws in their favour.

“My view on this is that it will make very little difference to our small business (annual sales of £1.2m) if we leave the EU. Customers will still buy Magic Whiteboard from us if they want it – if your product is good customers will still buy it. We actually sell more Magic Whiteboards to countries outside Europe. The only difference is that you have to complete one extra form. To trade within Europe you just send goods with the invoice.

“I would be happy to stay in Europe if it cost less and I know a lot of money is wasted. As a small business, I can’t afford to waste money like the EU does. Why don’t we try halving our yearly payment and see if we notice any difference to the quality of service being a member?”

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On the fence

Chris Maule, CEO and founder of peer-to-peer bond investment platform UK Bond Network, thinks Britain will remain in the EU as it’s our “natural default position” but doesn’t think it will be “plain sailing”: 

“As a nation we can be sceptical of change. We’re used to being in the EU, so this is our natural default position. David Cameron has his personal reputation to consider. Our exit from the EU may not be positioned favourably in the history books, and with this being the case, Cameron’s likely to put the full force of government infrastructure into play to ensure this does not happen on his watch.

“Leaders of top corporations are also likely to make their voices strongly heard – as was the case in the Scottish Independence Referendum. While Cameron has publicly set out his stall to win concessions from the EU, it’s unlikely he’ll achieve anything material enough to really support the ‘remain’ argument. This will (and already is) making easy pickings for Eurosceptics, which is only likely to intensify when the news hits that no significant concessions have been obtained.

“My expectation is a very close vote to remain but it will be far from plain sailing and the implications for the UK businesses and the wider economy remain hotly debated, and far from clear.”

Should Britain stay in the EU? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

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