Should IT Leaders Vote to Remain in EU?
With the EU referendum fast approaching, the arguments presented by the Britain Stronger In Europe and Vote Leave campaigns are in their final days. MPs have now, largely, declared their stance on the EU referendum. Across the House, 71% of MPs have declared for Remain, 23% for Leave, with 6% undeclared.
The latest ‘poll of polls’ compiled by What UK Thinks: EU indicates that amongst the public there is an equal, fifty-fifty split between the Vote Remain and Vote Leave camps. But where do IT leaders stand on the EU Referendum debate?
Yesterday, 34 UK Tech Leaders came out in favour of the Remain vote, coinciding with the opening of London Technology Week. In addition, around 200 business leaders have signed a letter in The Times stating ‘we believe that Britain is better off staying in a reformed European Union’. Though a similar number have signed a letter, published in the Telegraph, supporting Brexit and arguing that ‘we … believe that Britain’s competitiveness is being undermined by our membership of a failing EU’.
In February, David Cameron made a deal with other EU member nations to implement terms redrawing some of the boundaries of Britain’s EU membership. These include an automatic UK opt-out from EU treaties requiring ever closer union of member states, and allowing non-Eurozone countries to force a debate about problematic Eurozone laws. However, a British Chambers of Commerce survey has shown that for 63% of businesses, the Prime Minister’s renegotiations will have little effect on how they will vote. More generally, the British Chamber of Commerce’s polls show that 60% of businesses will vote Remain and 30% would vote Leave, with 10% currently undecided.
With no clear, consistent lead from either the Leave or the Remain camps, it’s easy to be left unsure of which way to vote. So what are some of the key issues around Britain’s membership of the EU:
- Freedom of movement. The free movement of European citizens within the EU block allows skills to travel and transfer easily across borders. Membership of the EU enables businesses in the UK to attract skilled labour, facilitating their growth and development. 60% of migrant workers in the UK from Western and Southern European EU countries have a degree (900,000 people), which is compared to 25% of UK nationals. Should Britain leave the EU, the visa and customs requirements for EU nationals could be seen as a bar to prospective employees from the EU. Posts for highly skilled technology graduates could go unfilled, as the UK does not produce enough graduates to fill all industry roles. In demand IT skilled EU nationals have many options to go elsewhere in the world to search for work – and the businesses that rely on them could follow. Britain could miss out on the opportunity to train, develop and foster the next generation of world IT leaders and experts.
- Security. Remaining within the EU allows IT and technology companies to share knowledge of data and technology threats with other European countries quickly and efficiently, contributing to EU member bodies such as COSI and the PSC, enabling a pan European strategy to many world problems.
- Cost. Membership of the EU encourages significant investment in British businesses and technologies. This investment comes from around the world as Britain is frequently seen by businesses as the ‘gateway’ to the EU. Voting leave will put Britain’s position as this ‘gateway’ in jeopardy, and could put international investors off investing in the UK. This would increase costs for UK-based companies, and negatively affect supply chains forcing UK businesses to find alternative (and ever scarcer) sources of funding. A further advantage of staying in the EU is that businesses will not have to invest in new systems, or adapt to new technology legislation post exit.
- Stronger Market. The single market allows people, goods, services and money to move freely around the EU as it would within a country. While there is an argument that the single market reduces the economic sovereignty of individual countries, separate economic laws within the EU only fosters legal uncertainty and can, in fact, hamper the development of economies. In addition a strong market can fuel innovation, helping tackle global issues such as climate change. EU directives on issues such as Services, E-Commerce, and Unfair Commercial Practices create a level playing field. In October 2015, the European Commission produced a press release on ‘A Deeper and Fairer Single Market’. Here, Brussels sets out EU strategy to remove the red tape and encourage a fairer market in which SMEs can flourish. More of that please.
A ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer seems too simplistic for something as complicated as Britain’s membership of the EU. Is Britain better to leave the EU and renegotiate from square one? Or is it better for Britain to remain in the EU, negotiating a new way forward legally, economically, and socially, for all member states to aspire to? As Juergen Maier, CEO of Siemens UK has suggested, ‘Britain will be better off staying in the EU and leading the Continent in carrying out the reforms that business needs to see’. This measured approach is reiterated by the CBI, who have produced the booklet Choosing Our Future, detailing the benefits of EU membership – but also proposing areas in which its attitude to business can be improved.
In IT we’re used to spotting, understanding, influencing and implementing change, so whatever you vote on Thursday, and please do vote, prepare for EU version 365 come Friday. This will require less patches and security updates than previous ones – or so both sides say!!
 ‘EU Vote: Where the Cabinet and Other MPs Stand’, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-eu-referendum-35616946 (20 June 2016)
 What UK Thinks: EU provides non-partisan information on attitudes to the EU and the EU Referendum in the UK. What UK Thinks is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). More information and graphs can be found here: http://whatukthinks.org/eu/opinion-polls/poll-of-polls/.
 ‘Business leaders set out their European stall’, The Times, 23 February 2016, http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/opinion/letters/article4696807.ece
 ‘Letters: Britain’s competitiveness is undermined by a failing EU’, 15 May 2016, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/2016/05/15/letters-britains-competitiveness-is-undermined-by-a-failing-eu/.
 ‘BCC EU poll: Business voting intentions harden as PM seeks final deal’, http://www.britishchambers.org.uk/policy-maker/policy-reports-and-publications/bcc-eu-poll-business-voting-intentions-harden-as-pm-seeks-final-deal.html.
‘Mass EU Migration into Britain is actually good news for UK economy’, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/feb/18/mass-eu-migration-into-britain-is-actually-good-news-for-uk-economy
 The UK’s EU Membership Fee – Full Fact: https://fullfact.org/europe/our-eu-membership-fee-55-million/
 ‘A Deeper and Fairer Single Market’, European Commission, 28 October 2015, http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-15-5910_en.htm.
 ‘The EU is Good for Business, says Siemens UK Boss’, 15 November 2014, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/11233188/The-EU-is-good-for-business-says-Siemens-UK-boss.html.
 ‘Choosing Our Future: Why the European Union is Good for Business, but How It Should Be Better’, CBI, http://news.cbi.org.uk/news/cbi-makes-case-for-being-in-a-reformed-eu/choosing-our-future/