The great duel tension: why entrepreneurs should vote remain

European Parliament
Johnny Luk
Chief executive officer
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As the European Union (EU) referendum draws closer, the in and out campaigns are reaching an almost insufferable boiling point. With scaremongering and some pretty shaky tactics, it’s almost easier to disengage from the debate than to stew over its potential ramifications.

For business owners, the decision may well be difficult and its impact on trade, skills, funding and collaboration will be high up their list of priorities.

The freedom to work with other countries, to be part of an ecosystem and to solve problems through collaboration is, for many entrepreneurs, the bedrock of their values – for them, voting to remain will feel like a decision from both their head and their heart. Surely, shutting ourselves off from our neighbours, our trading partners and a talent pool will leave British entrepreneurs worse off?

Lean governance

On the other hand, entrepreneurs are instinctively wary of big, inefficient structures. Startups are all about creating agile, fluid working systems free from the bureaucracy-laden corporations. Is the European Union (EU) just that; a behemoth that is preventing the UK from making its own decisions? Are we a mere cog in a slow, procedural machine?

For entrepreneurs, voting to remain will feel like a decision from both their head and their heart.

For many, myself included, the temptation to blame those damn EU bureaucrats, trolling us with their gravy trains and banana-shaped regulations are overwhelming. Every instinct of mine as a small government, pro-democracy and proud Brit is asking me to go forth and be free of the tyrants of Brussels. Yet I won’t. I can’t – because that emotional argument is missing one essential ingredient: facts.

For small businesses and startups, a vote to remain is a vote for stability. If we vote out the fallout is inevitably going to be messy. The financial chaos alone will hamper our country for decades. The pounds in your pocket are going to be worth less and trade, like car manufacturing, would be hammered, and all the suppliers and secondary markets with it will be affected.

Difficult negotiations

This sounds scary I know, and no one likes a scaremonger, but it is simple logic. If every single trade rule and law that is covered in EU legislation is to be renegotiated, the process itself will be arduous and people will be left waiting, creating uncertainty.

You think it is easy to renegotiate every trade issue, with every country in Europe? Let alone all the countries linked to that? These things won’t just magically happen and certainly not in two years. That kind of uncertainty is terrible for any country.

Now, I am not saying that the UK can’t do it on its own, the question is: would it do even better if it left? By that margin, it’s not even close. For example, how can we do better than no tariff fees? We can’t. It’s impossible, so on top of the time wasted, the trade deal we eventually get will be worse than before.

Immigration provides a source of talent in certain underemployed sectors, like health and science, and are often a rich funnel of entrepreneurs and innovators.

Don’t take it from me, take it from people such as the World Trade Organisation, the Bank of England, the IFS, the IMF, about 90% of economists and basically every major trading partner we have. Leavers who look at those institutions above and say ‘well they’re just part of the Establishment’ are using a rather lazy argument crafted straight from the Donald Trump playbook.

I happen to represent a network of hundreds of enterprise societies across the UK, full of budding young talent, creativity and innovation. For these networks to thrive, for investment to flow and for capital to be unlocked, the last thing you need is uncertainty. Voting leave will create the maximum possible uncertainty for the largest length of time.

Resetting everything, instead of focusing on other issues, like the migrant crisis or improving the economy, will be a big problem. Whether we are in or out of the EU, there will always be a migration issue, and there will always be a refugee issue, regardless of the situation, people will still want to come to our great country.

The immigration question

I understand how intimidating and uncomfortable it is when the community around you changes, people do not appear to integrate or speak the language. However, immigration helps our country by bringing in new skills, providing a source of talent in certain underemployed sectors, like health, science, engineering and tech, and are often a rich funnel of entrepreneurs and innovators.

Of course, it isn’t good that local Brits have more competition for jobs, but the source of this problem is our education system; we should aim to improve the local skill base so that they can get the jobs in the first place.

We haven’t even discussed the overwhelming pros of being in the EU, the major collaborations and funding in science and climate change, coordinating on security and intelligence, the better deals by working as a larger block and solidarity against threats abroad.

Voting leave can sound sexy, and the EU can feel remote and is far from perfect. You might be tempted just to bruise the current government, but this isn’t about one government, or one prime minister, or the Nigel Farage show, this is about a whole generation.

So, if you are sitting on the fence, don’t go for something that seems so vague, so uncertain, so regressive, vote to stay and let’s fix any issues together round the table and lead, not quit, Europe.


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