We’ve all heard the debates and seen the news stories but what does the referendum mean for your business? On Thursday 23 June the UK will decide whether it chooses to remain in the European Union or whether it leaves.
In 1975, Britain held a referendum shortly after joining the EU and voted that the country remained a part of the organisation.
Although there has been call for this to change in more recent years, the vote was initially resisted until 2013.
At this current point polls suggest that the country is fairly evenly tied on its decision. The main concerns raised are that Britain is held back in some way by the Union as businesses follow strict rules and pay large amounts for little in return.
On the other hand, some believe the EU makes selling easier and helps to fuel to economic growth within the UK as well as other countries.
Either way, if Britain votes to leave it will face new negotiations and new trading relationships.
We spoke to some key industry organisations who provided their opinion on ‘Brexit’.
British Independent Retail Association
As the possibility that the EU referendum might result in a British exit from the EU (“Brexit”) members of the BIRA Legal and Parliamentary Affairs committee have given their thoughts on the prospect. The wide range of opinions and the overall feeling of neutrality on the issue show the difficulties of taking a position on the matter. Here are some of the thoughts of BIRA members, presented anonymously:
- “The long term effect would be broadly neutral. Doing business might become a bit less bureaucratic and less expensive. Neutral in a business sense yet personally in favour of Brexit.”
- “Manufacturers will be more concerned than retailers and Brexit could damage prospects for exporting to Europe.”
- “An importer from Europe and a retailer couldn’t see it would damage trade as new trade agreements would be put in place – everyone would have too much to lose otherwise.”
- “There is no such thing as a non-messy divorce.”
- “Would be no change to business. Buying from European and Far Eastern suppliers: “We buy the best products we can at the best price available, wherever they come from. Other barriers make no difference, they are simply priced in.”
- “Stability is the most important thing for business.” What this retailer didn’t know and none did was whether Brexit would provide or damage stability – a common theme.
- “Another thought that it would be damaging as tariffs and barriers to trade could rise. On the other hand freedom from European regulations could make life better.”
- A retailer who has worked for US companies thought it would be damaging as they often choose the UK as an Anglophone entry point into and base within the EU zone.
- The question is unanswerable: there is too much uncertainty to be able to make a calculation.
Ian Cass, managing director, The Forum of Private Business:
“The feedback suggests that opinions are divided, everyone has their own opinion and they have a vote by which to express that opinion, myself included, so with that in mind I feel it would be inappropriate for the Forum to take a side in this debate. The whole point of a referendum is that the power is put in the hands of individual people to make up their minds about the question, based on the arguments put forward by the respective campaigns – rather than the Forum seeking to direct how they should vote, so we will not be campaigning for either side of the argument.”
“As our members and other SME employers will create 70 percent of jobs over the next decade, it is important that they are heard in this debate for the long term prosperity of the economy. But it needs to be an informed debate. That is why the Forum will be writing to all key stakeholders to understand their vision of the relationship between the UK and the rest of Europe, inviting members to provide feedback to our policy team and undertaking a number of twitter debates on the subject.”
“All taxpayers should understand that leaving the EU will mean a change in the focus of spending, this may mean more money is available but also there will be additional commitments over the next few years.”
Amanda Sizer Barrett MBE, director general, PetQuip and Gardenex export associations
“Whatever the outcome of the Referendum in June, the PetQuip and Gardenex export associations will continue to work hard to help and support member firms with all their export aspirations.
“We are already best placed to support exporters, with a comprehensive range of practical export
advice, international market research and new international business contacts – both within and outside the EU.
“So whatever the outcome of the Referendum, we will be working hard to provide the hands-on help that British exporters in all of our sectors will need, in order to ride the uncertainty leading up to and perhaps following the Referendum results.
“We are fortunate that our growing body of members is innovative, entrepreneurial and pragmatic
and ready to seize opportunities wherever they arise in the world. Therefore we are confident that in the longer term, British exports of garden, leisure and petcare products and services will continue to increase in established markets and develop in new territories and emerging markets around the globe.”
George Bramble, co-founder, Beco Pets
“Brexit would be a gamble, a lottery. When my business partner Toby Massey and I set up Beco Pets in 2009, we had no idea how quickly our fledgling business would grow. Now we’re selling Beco products to pet owners in 43 countries.
“Much of that custom lies within Europe, where our distributors, retailers and consumers are increasingly demanding our environmentally-friendly products, which they see as better for the environment and better for pets. I believe a reformed Europe is a stronger Europe, and that it’s better to trade from within the EU as fully-fledged members than to go it alone, taking what our Prime Minister calls “a leap in the dark”.
“The Bank of England’s Governor and City of London business leaders suggest we’re better off ‘in’ than ‘out’ economically. I agree. Sure, companies like Beco Pets could build bridges with trading partners if the Referendum said leave. But that would be a gamble. The length and complexity of Brexit negotiations mean their outcome would be a lottery.
“UK pet businesses like ours stand a better chance of winning big sales deals if we remain inside the EU. So I’ll vote ‘In’. As they say at the National Lottery, ‘You’ve got to be in it to win it’.”
Stephen Turner, Managing Director at Group55 Ltd
“It seems irrational that the general public is being asked to decide on a matter so complex and uncertain when the only certainty is that nobody knows what would happen if we do vote to leave.
“We do know that an exit would increase our administration requirements and the state of the MOD, NHS and local government are proof enough that we are not good at administration. I worry that our infrastructure would be unable to undertake the extra responsibilities an exit would bring.
“Commercially, importing and exporting would change, most likely leading to a rise in the cost of goods. As a manufacturer I have no appetite to incur more added costs when all employers have the challenge of accommodating the 20% increase to the National Living Wage by 2020.
“Irrespective of the uncertainty the timing of the vote is awful. The world is coping with unprecedented economic and social instability and change is happening faster than anyone is seemingly able to cope with; I cannot side with a decision that only guarantees more instability and uncertainty. The EU is far from perfect, but while we remain part of ‘it’, ‘it’ can provide us a stability and a degree of certainty that we can work with and influence… I will be voting to remain within the EU”.