DISCUSSION Brexit as a force for good?

by Luke Robinson _______27th March 2015

As David Cameron announced that the British people must have their say on Europe pledging an in/out referendum, eurosceptics all over the country applauded the prime minister’s determination to get re-elected. The political case for Britain leaving the European Union was made in a simple moment, after a political figure pressured by the surge in support for anti-EU rhetoric, announced it.

But what about the business case?

The worried voices of business did not take long to reach Mr. Cameron’s ears. Early on 2013 Richard Branson published his views online saying that “It is not a time to step back and put up the barriers of isolation and protectionism”, vigorously defending Britain’s position inside the EU while warning that “Britain could be an island completely adrift in 20 years”[1]. Others followed.

Sir Michael Rake, President of The Confederation of British Industry warned the Prime Minister while introducing him to CBI’s annual conference: “By withdrawing from Europe we do not somehow become more open to trade elsewhere; instead we turn inwards, going against the grain of an increasingly connected world”[2].

And just yesterday, Open Europe, the European policy think tank in favour of reform in the EU said that a possible Brexit could result in a permanent loss of 2.2 percent of the country’s gross domestic product by 2030.[3]

The voices are all there and they are backed by numbers. The 1.7m EU workforce in the UK is actively participating in the wealth creation of the country. Even the majority of visa holding non-EU immigrants are skilled workers, further demonstrating the growing needs of British industry.[4]

Behind closed doors entrepreneurs admit that they will struggle to find the much needed skilled workforce to maintain their successful London-based businesses if an EU exit brings an end to the freedom of movement for workers and persons.

The possibility for companies to move their headquarters away from British soil and closer to a more permanent and friendly continental home is not a mindless threat targeting a eurosceptic government; it is a reality businesses are ready to face and a choice they are ready to make.

The truth is that the business case for Britain inside the EU is being made every day; by business. Companies with international reach are championing inclusiveness, meritocracy and global corporate citizenship. And yet exploiters of crises are taking advantage of societal anger and the eurosceptic movement is growing. Can a strong business message bring an end to these behaviours?

The new government on 8 May is going to face a great challenge. It will have to decide between political cost and the welfare of the British economy. If we are demanding from our business leaders to focus on the long term why are we not demanding the same from our politicians?

[1] Branson R., Why an exit from EU would be bad for British business, http://www.virgin.com/richard-branson/why-an-exit-from-eu-would-be-bad-for-british-business accessed 24/03/2015

[2] Hutton R., U.K. Business Leaders Make Cameron Defend EU Referendum , Bloomberg Business (10 November 2014). http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-11-10/u-k-business-leaders-make-cameron-defend-eu-referendum accessed 24/03/2015

[3] Sandle P., A British EU exit could hit GDP by 2.2 percent – study, Reuters (23 March 2015) http://uk.reuters.com/article/2015/03/23/uk-britain-eu-brexit-idUKKBN0MJ00D20150323 accessed 24/03/2015

[4] Casciani D., UK migration: What’s really happening?, BBC (28 November 2014). http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-30243472  accessed 24/03/2015

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