Opinion

Charlie Mullins: Business owners need to consider what the EU referendum will mean

4 min read

25 January 2016

While prime minister David Cameron may not have fired the official starter’s pistol for the EU referendum campaign in Switzerland, he did give businesses a 20-yard head start.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Cameron called on UK businesses to speak up in support for Britain to stay in a reformed European Union.

Soon after, some of the big guns of the corporate world broke cover to back him, with names such as the chairman of BAE Systems, the CEO of Vodafone and the CEO of drug firm GlaxoSmithKline enthusiastically aligning themselves with Cameron’s position.

Even the bankers, to use a bit of rhyming slang, from the City have shown a moment of uncharacteristic common sense with firms such as Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, Morgan Stanley and Bank of America indicating support for the Stronger In Europe campaign.

However, this debate is not just the preserve of those in the corporate world. It affects every man, woman, child and even dog – as European law dictates our canine family members can have passports too!

According to figures from 2015, the UK now has 5.4m small and medium-sized businesses, which accounts for 95 per cent of all businesses in the country. And all of those businesses deserve a voice and the opportunity to share views on the EU referendum.

While Pimlico Plumbers is firmly in the medium-sized bracket, turning over around £30m and employing 340, it’s nowhere near the size of a company like BAE Systems or Vodafone. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t share my views on the EU.

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And my view is clear. Why would we want to give up on the organisation that gives us a seat at the top table? While I hate bureaucracy and Brussels is full of pencil pushers with no business experience, remaining part of the world’s biggest market is a no brainer.

We have 500m people on our doorstep who can buy our products with no hassle – why would we give that up? Why would we give up on the place that’s the destination for 45 per cent of our exports?

The EU may be far from perfect, but it’s so important to our economy and negotiating our way to a better deal has to be the best solution for Britain. 

Whether you agree with me or not, no one in business should disagree that as a community of entrepreneurs we should start engaging in this debate. It should be discussed at every local CBI event, IoD dinner and Federation of Smalls Businesses shindig. 

Business owners have to consider what the EU referendum will mean to their firms and talk to each other about it. 

We all get invited to hundreds of networking events, dinners and events every year. Some are more worthwhile than others, but which ever ones you attend, make sure there is some sort of discussion about the EU – even if you have to start the conversation yourself!

So while Cameron is keeping his own referendum powder dry for a little longer, he’s given business the green light to starting firing off its views. It’s an invitation we should all grasp; otherwise it could blow up in our faces.

Both view points may combat for the greater good of the UK economy, but Vistage’s Steve Gilroy revealed that SMEs aren’t worried by or haven’t even thought of the prospect of a referendum. In fact, both sides still need a strong case to win over SMEs.