On the 23 June, people up and down the UK will be heading to polling stations to cast their vote in the European Union’s referendum. The simple action of a cross marked in a square will have incrementally far-reaching implications, which could substantially change the way the UK perceives and is perceived by the rest of Europe.
The last time the UK voted in a European Union’s (EU) referendum was in 1975, so for over four decades the UK has been happy to play its part in a unified Europe.
For me, the old adage applies: ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ Although I know there is scope for the UK’s membership of the European Union to be negotiated to give us more concessions and benefits, the basic premise still remains that the UK is better off in Europe than out of it.
For over forty years the UK has supported and been supported by the European Union in a variety ways, from access to the large common market, to easier travel across the continent and a cohesive legal structure. This all has the potential to change if we choose to leave the EU.
As a migrant entrepreneur, I see the value of borderless societies, whereby people are free to live and work where they can make a real difference to a society in terms of their skills, intellectual property and entrepreneurial talent.
For me, the Brexit debate centres on the following three key points; how has and will Europe positively impact women, SMEs and migration.
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On the subject of women, and particularly ethnic women in business, I strongly believe that women are beneficiaries of our EU membership.
In the last few decades, the European Union has helped to foster greater parity between men and women in the UK through equal treatment legislation, measures for the advancement of women and systematic gender mainstreaming ensuring that a gendered perspective is incorporated into all other policies.
This mainstreaming works particularly well with curbing double discrimination, as EU legislation is working to ensure greater equality both in terms of ethnicity and gender. Working mothers are protected by EU legislation, which guarantees paid leave, the right to return to work and at least fourteen weeks off work. If we leave then these safeguards will have to be renegotiated.
I strongly believe that women - particularly ethnic women - in business are beneficiaries of our EU membership.
Whilst the EU has done a great deal of work for women there is still much to be done. In fact, the EU has a strategy in place from 2016-2019, which seeks to strategically address remaining inequalities, such as from pay inequalities to the combating of gender-based violence. Staying in the EU will allow the UK to engage with this plan and give the bloc more strength when campaigning on these issues.
One of the key business groups in the UK are SMEs, and today London is a central hub for international organisations wishing to spread across EU borders. Suppliers, employees and technology are regularly sourced offshore from UK businesses, with thanks to the EU for making this transfer simpler. In the face of a Brexit, however, business owners could see their operations and subsequent finances falter almost instantly.
As a small business owner myself with a fantastic, multicultural team behind me I believe without a doubt that a Brexit could do more harm than good. Workplaces such as mine benefit from having a vast range of opinions and contributions, and with it becoming increasingly difficult for migrants to settle here, startups could see detrimental effects resulting from a lack of diversity.
In addition, a large proportion of SME owners rely on external financing to fund their business, often turning to banks, government bodies and EU initiatives for aid. With a lack of foreign investors and the economy in turmoil a cut to initiatives (and absence of EU specific initiatives) and funding schemes is expected, therefore, limiting the pool of SMEs able to broach the market.
Finally, the Brexit campaign has completely discounted how beneficial migration is to the UK. Migrants contribute over £25bn to the UK economy making them an absolutely indispensable part of the business community.
Negative stereotypes also warp many truths about migrants. For example, a central concern when debating migration in the UK is the impact of immigrants on the UK’s tax and welfare systems, but a look at the numbers quell these fears; immigrants are paying on average 64% more in taxes than they have received in benefits.
I have benefitted enormously from the free trade and flow of people from the EU. Ease of travel has not only benefitted my business, but it has also enriched me as a person by allowing me to do business and socialise with a vast array of people from all over the EU.