“The equivalent of jumping off a cliff”? Business owners react to Article 50

Two days on from Theresa May triggering Britain's exit from the EU, UK entrepreneurs reflect on the pros and cons of the prime minister's decision

On Wednesday 29th March, prime minister Theresa May triggered Article 50 – kicking off Brexit negotiations – with a letter notifying the European Council President of Britain’s intention to leave the EU.

In the statement that followed later that day, May asserted that “now the process is underway […] a national effort is needed […] to shape a stronger future for Britain”.

Recognising the news was a “celebration for some and disappointment for others”, May said she saw no reason why “a new deep and special partnership between the UK and the EU that works for us all” couldn’t be agreed and, for businesses, no reason why Britain couldn’t be “a magnet for international talent and a home to the pioneers and innovators”.

So, having had time to reflect on the news, what do Britain’s “pioneers and innovators” – our start-up founders, entrepreneurs and small business owners – have to say on the churning of the mechanics for leaving the EU?

“We’ll be a hell of a lot worse off economically”

Benjamin Southworth, founder of Unicorn Hunt:

“Like any hugely disruptive moment, there are opportunities to rebound, rebuild and reinvest.

“Should the UK be willing to be bold and adventurous with doubling down on the great work by GDS, and creating more public-private sector partnerships, then perhaps the UK can emerge a world leader in user first digital lead governance.

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“Brexit in my view, with my beliefs, is a total and utter cluster**ck. The current conservative administration and it’s parliamentary opposition are utterly unfit for purpose.

“Selfishly, I read the writing on the wall and am now very happily based in Amsterdam and enjoying the process of ensuring my European citizenship.

“My view is that, unless we can secure the access to European talent, migration, live and work rights, passporting, The Open Skies Agreement, EU Roaming rights, and the EU human rights charter, we’ll be a hell of a lot worse off socially and economically.

“I’ve remained fairly silent on this matter, but it is the worst self imposed, un-necesary political catastrophe in living memory, and the cost of Brexit will be used as an excuse to divest huge amounts of social care and education. London may survive through sheer mass and money, but it’s going to be close.”

“Brexit must be treated as an opportunity”

Angus Dent, CEO of peer-to-peer lending firm ArchOver:

“Theresa May triggering Article 50 is the start of a serious trial for UK enterprise. With uncertainty comes a decline in investment and the threat of growth halting altogether. Without strong investment, businesses will be unable to keep their heads above water in an unpredictable post-Brexit market.

“Small and medium businesses will find this an especially daunting period. If investment and lending levels drop following Article 50, tomorrow’s entrepreneurs will remain in the shadows, lacking the cash to drive their businesses and our economy forward.

“To offset that we must support our homegrown businesses. We must let them know there’s help available.

“We must all treat Brexit as an opportunity […] – and avoid being dragged down by uncertainty.”

 Also see: 5 ways Brexit could benefit your business

“The equivalent of jumping off a cliff hoping that your untested parachute will open”

Francesco Cardeletti, founder of Pawsquad

“Triggering Article 50 is the equivalent of jumping off a cliff hoping that your untested parachute will open. It is quite the risky business.

“The government approach to Brexit has been strictly political and it is clear that the cost to the UK economy has not been factored in (namely, inflation, slower growth, shortage of talent, reduced access to capital, inability to operate efficiently and effectively in the EU, the drop in house prices, just to name a few.) Regrettably, how we’d like the process to look, is irrelevant.

“The UK has effectively no bargaining chips and the EU has little to no incentive to offer a good deal. The best hope for the UK in the short term is:

  • (i) For the UK-EU to find a solution for the million of EU/UK foreign residents
  • (ii) To retain passporting rights for financial institutions to trade in the EU (this will keep the fintech sector afloat)
  • (iii) To create incentives for business to keep investing in the UK economy

“Brexit will certainly have a negative effect on the UK prominence as a tech hub. Tech start-ups are fuelled by talent and capital. Since free movement of labour and capital will no longer be permitted, tech talent will certainly move to other European capitals, such as Amsterdam and Berlin, and capital will follow them.”

“The UK can now incentivise industries that need financial assistance”

Justin Arnesan, director of R&D tax and grants at Ayming:

“Brexit has sparked the debate of a generation, but regardless of what side you are, one thing is clear – Brexit offers the UK the perfect opportunity to unshackle itself from EU regulations regarding funding.

“For too long our funding has centred on Innovation and European grants, and while this has worked up to a point, Britain has lacked the ability to make real, fundamental change. Now, post-Brexit Britain has an opportunity to take control of its own initiatives and create industry-specific incentives that wouldn’t otherwise have happened under the guidance of the EU.

“The UK can now incentivise industries that need financial assistance – which will in turn attract leading organisations and top talent into those specific sectors. For example, we can provide grants to construction to truly ‘get Britain building’ and we can focus our efforts on world-class technology.

“Brexit is also an opportunity for the UK to expand its focus. At the moment, Britain’s focus is on innovation grants where as other jurisdictions have better grants across the value chain. This is something the UK needs to adopt. Innovation is the first pillar of development, but once we have incentivised innovation we then need to encourage organisations to manufacture that product. Those currently don’t exist – but now have a chance to put them in place.”

“It won’t impact small businesses”

Lee Murphy, owner of Pandle:

“Though it may prompt some UK small and medium businesses to start thinking about the implications of Brexit on their business, the triggering of Article 50 should be nothing to fear and if I’m honest, I don’t think it will impact small businesses.”

“We can expect the pound to drop slightly following this news announcement as it will remind investors and businesses that Brexit is coming, however this dip should be just that, a temporary lull which will soon bounce back when buyers snap up the currency at a lower price.”

“Without knowing the outcome it’s impossible to prepare your business, and there are many important elections coming up in the EU that will impact this Brexit also.”


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