The EU: it’s a question of hats

At some point in the next year or two, we’ll all be trooping down to the polling stations for the In-Out Referendum. Or as less reverent people refer to it, the Constitutional Hokey Cokey.

Those who have time occasionally give it a fuller description – a referendum to decide whether the United Kingdom should remain in the European Union.

Many people think that:

  • we’ve been led a merry dance on the whole EU question by leaders of every section of the community;
  • even if we’re better informed we’re none the wiser; and
  • we’ve heard enough about this to last a lifetime.

True, but since the effects of this are likely to be felt for several lifetimes, it’s worth persevering: we need to get this right.

We need to get it right

It’s as simple as that. If only we were sure what “right” is.

If it were as cut and dried as proponents and opponents equally believe it to be, then we’d surely all agree and there’d be no need for a referendum. But it’s anything but simple – and that’s even before people start to think whether they’re going to vote with their hearts, their heads or their wallets. Or in other words, whether they’re going to think about sovereignty, general economic prosperity or their own interests (which is not to judge, or to imply that you would necessarily arrive at different conclusions).

Here at Simplify the Law, we like to keep things straightforward, but even we acknowledge that it may be a bit ambitious to clear this all up in a single blogpost. So we thought we’d highlight a few of the questions that we think you should be asking, if you have your business hat on, as opposed to your constitutional one.

Because only you can know the actual answers.

Sovereignty and the SME

Does this actually make a difference to you?

This might depend on factors such as whether you believe that UK central or local government is better placed than Europe to respond to the needs of your business, by passing or amending laws, directing funding and supporting local industries and economies. You may feel so, or you may feel that, in your particular sector, a wider legislative machine gives you the best chance to compete and prosper.

For many, sovereignty is an almost emotional issue, which trumps the general or specific interests of business. We don’t say that to devalue it. But if the most important thing to you is the success of your business, then it’s sensible to consider whether sovereignty on its own is a relevant consideration.

A stable Europe

A continent without conflict between its biggest nations for 70 years is desirable in itself. It’s one of the strongest non-economic points raised in favour of the EU. It makes sense that, at a high level, this is a crucial condition for prosperity. Keeping your SME hat on – does this affect your business, either now or in the future?

The single market

What does the single market mean to you? For some businesses, probably nothing at all. If you’re a local trader, delivering services to consumers, you may not be bothered directly by the fact that you have access to customers in Sweden.

But for others it may make all the difference. It might increase opportunity for you to export by giving you unfettered access to a whole continent. Or it might increase the competitive threat to you as a whole continent has access to where you trade.

We know – at least we’ve been told often enough by successive governments – that the economic prosperity of the country can be measured by the success of small businesses. It isn’t quite so clear which is the cause and which the effect.

An open Europe undoubtedly means opportunity for more people to create more small businesses, and for more small businesses to grow and spread to and from the UK. This has a lot to do with…

Free movement of workers

Does it matter to you where you can work? Or where you’ll be able to find the skills you need in your staff or contractors? Once again, the answer to that will depend on the nature and size of your business and the community in which you operate. You know your sector, the area you work in and – above all – your customers. Will they be affected by the availability of a wider choice of workers, or the  possibility that people may choose to travel elsewhere to use their skills?

For some kinds of work, the technical freedom to move around is hindered by the need to have individual national qualifications. Lawyers, for example, can move around like the rest of us, but they can’t practise in a country unless they’ve qualified as a lawyer specifically in that country. There‘s no single European legal qualification which allows a person to handle a matter across the continent, but a more integrated Europe could lead in that direction.

We have our views on this, but we’re going to remain scrupulously neutral. Unless anybody asks.

If you want to get ahead, get a hat

Significant and influential business and economic institutions have come out in favour of continued membership of the EU, preferably on different terms to those currently in place for the UK. They see secure and prosperous markets, and a growing, flexible, mobile and talented workforce. That’s a powerful point. Does it express what you think?

To cap it all…

We’ve tried to suggest what could be the key things for you to consider if your business hat is the one you’ll be wearing when you decide how to vote.

What we can’t do, obviously, is predict which hat you’ll be wearing when you enter the polling booth. Unless, possibly, you’re a chef, a building contractor, a freelance motorcycle stunt rider or a reigning monarch.

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