The interconnectedness of all things is a phrase I have borrowed from the late great Douglas Adams – he of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. This particular gem comes though from one of his other works, the Dirk Gently novels. Hopefully, the link with the European question is obvious. Whilst we may be disconnected by the seas and oceans that surround us, our past (and in my view) our future, are inexorably interconnected to our continental near neighbours.
Of course, it’s not that simple. I have had endless discussions with friends, colleagues and business contacts over the merits of staying
in versus leaving the EU, and pretty much all of us have come to one conclusion: it is almost impossible to untangle one argument from another because, sadly, the context of the debate has become toxic, although the tribal tendencies of our politicians have temporarily moved away from the predictable left and right, to coalesce around the new question of ‘in’ or ‘out’.
All factions are pitching in with their particular sound bytes and political point-scoring, much of which is so unworthy of the country they profess to serve. In addition, as far as the Conservative Party is concerned, we have the unedifying spectacle of a government and party divided on a fundamental question affecting the future of the UK, which, even when answered by the referendum, will at best leave deep and permanent scars, and at worst may see the party fracture down what seems to be an irreparable fault line.
So where has this left me? Well, obviously, one of my prime concerns is business, which perhaps you’d expect from a Partner of an accounting practice. In my book, business makes the world go around. It generates the wealth and taxes by which this country and its people prosper. It provides us with jobs and a future for our children. One inescapable statistic is that our main trading partner, by a long chalk, is the EU. In a recent FT article, exports of British goods from the UK to the EU were said to stand at 45%, with services accounting for 38% of our exports to the EU – in both cases, our largest market by some measure. Of course, on the basis that we import more from the EU than we export, it would be stupid of them to cut us adrift or start a tariff war, but the risk to our trade is still obvious and significant. What isn’t in question is the fact that if we leave the EU, we will still be caught by all of the legislation governing the goods we export to it. The big difference here is that we would have no influence over what those regulations would say, which would leave UK industry and the UK service sector at a major disadvantage, and that would undoubtedly be bad for UK business.
In my view, and because no market enjoys uncertainty, the effect of a BREXIT on UK business confidence would be tangibly negative and potentially long-lasting. Negotiations for an exit would take time and, whilst they were going on, uncertainty would be pervasive. The EU question has many other facets, not least national security, but for me there’s no fence-sitting. I’ve made my choice, and it’s to stay in.