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The problem is not leaving the EU – it’s the idea of leaving the EU…


Apologies in advance; this is a ‘Brexit blog’ – but I’m not going to express hugely well-informed or revolutionary ideas here. I’m not going to lay out what it will mean for the banking, consulting, technology or recruitment industries. Frankly, I can’t!  I don’t yet know enough to be able to do that – and I know I’m definitely not alone in that.

And therein lies the problem; this isn’t a referendum on who will be prime minister, who will be your local representative or who will be Mayor. This isn’t party vs party – and you would like to think it would be free of the vague political flufferies that go with such a contest.  But it is being fought like one and the voter is no wiser for it.

Is it wishful thinking and naïve to believe that we might get a debate on this issue full of cold-hard facts and digestible statistics? Something different to the usual political back-and-forth of woolly answers and misleading statements?   I suspect so.

On the ‘leave’ side we have Boris Johnson and Iain Duncan-Smith actually making some very salient points – but frankly enshrouding them in so much bluster about Britain winning two World Wars that those cold hard facts and statistics get completely lost. I’m sure I saw some relevant information at the bottom of this box of fluff – but every time I grab a handful someone else pours another bucket load in.

Also, suggesting that anyone on the opposite side thinks less of British people and ‘their ability to build things’ is complete nonsense and only puts the anti-EU camp in danger of being lumped in with UKIP and the like – which will probably do them no good.

We keep hearing that ‘Britain is the 5th largest economy in the world’ – which is true but is expressed in such a way as if being in the EU has had absolutely nothing to do with that. We also keep hearing that countries ‘like Norway’ do so well out of their ‘outside-the-EU, arms-length’ arrangement.  Again, that’s true, but again that conveniently forgets the key point that Norway’s entire economy and trade agreements have been entirely structured around never actually having been in the EU in the first place.

Meanwhile David Cameron and the ‘Remain’ campaign are playing mostly on a fear of the unknown. The unknown over job security, trade arrangements, political relationships, the future of London as a financial and professional services powerhouse etc.

This is also a fair and understandable perspective – but just like the ‘leave’ camp, they are also missing the key point; it’s the notion of a Brexit which is the issue. The ‘fear’ is coming from the very idea that we might leave the EU. The fact that we are seriously considering it and having a national vote on it creates fear for companies and individuals who do business in the UK, are planning to enter this market or already have a significant presence here.  We are thinking about leaving, debating the idea of leaving and, from the outside at least, it looks like our leaders are creating irreconcilable divisions between themselves which could affect political stability regardless of the vote.

All scary stuff.

As a recruiter who works across multiple geographies and with clients who hire based on skill-set rather than passport, the scariest unknown in all of this is if/how that will be affected:

Will the UK practice of a consulting firm be able to hire that French M&A expert from Paris without needing a work permit? Will the digital start-up in Berlin be able to consider that IoT specialist from Sweden without worrying about extra regulatory costs or limitations?

Of course work permits and limitations have been in place for many years for people from certain parts of the world, but the ability to hire from across Europe without restriction has allowed so many multinationals, start-ups and boutiques to be more progressive, more ambitious and explore a wider scope in their businesses.  That professional freedom of movement has been key across all markets – particularly our specialist area of management consulting.

Clarification on all these issues would be great – but I suspect we will have none. Of course if the UK votes to leave the EU then we will certainly get some – but I suspect that clarification will arrive long after the event.

That, again, leaves us all in limbo and it is that waiting game, the intangibles, that ‘unknown’ factor which is exactly the problem.

- by Tariq Siraj

Posted by: Beament Leslie Thomas