24 January 2019

London - Westminster and BrexitWhilst the government and wider Parliament bicker back and forth about the Brexit deal as the March 29th deadline looms, in the real world, the Brexit debacle continues to take its toll. Today, Airbus’s CEO Tom Enders is the latest in a list of huge businesses to hit the headlines for considering a move away from Britain.

Enders called the fact that businesses are still unable to plan for Brexit a “disgrace”. He added: “Please don’t listen to the Brexiteers’ madness which asserts that, because we have huge plants here, we will not move and we will always be here. They are wrong.”

It’s quite a blow considering that the firm employs around 14,000 people in the UK and is a flagship Welsh employer.

Airbus is the latest in a line of businesses to either warn or make the move out of the country as the uncertainty continues. Brexiteer Sir James Dyson announced this week that Dyson is to move its HQ from Britain to Singapore. The Guardian reported that ferry firm P&O announced that its entire fleet of cross-Channel ferries will be re-registered under the Cypriot flag, as part of the 182-year-old British maritime operator’s Brexit plans. Sony this week announced that it is to move its HQ from the UK to the Netherlands. Speaking of which, The Times today reports that the Netherlands government are in talks to lure 250 British businesses to the country to avoid Brexit chaos.

If they are in talks with 250, imagine how many others are in talks with Switzerland or Cyprus or any of the other countries.

Generations

It wouldn’t surprise me if there were countries providing tax or other incentives to entice businesses away. Big brands relocating attracts wealth and brings jobs into the area. Ireland did very well attracting Microsoft and Google knowing that they would create jobs and attract wealth. I believe that this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Is it ethical for businesses to leave the UK at a time like this? It’s certainly a good question to ask. However, people would not leave unless there were significant benefits or reduced risks for them elsewhere. So it’s unsurprising that business leaders are feeling that they are being almost forced to go because of the unfortunate mess that this debacle created.

There’s something that’s in-built in me, where I feel a sense of responsibility. I could save hundreds of millions in tax yet I choose to remain in the UK. I am proud of the tax I pay and I am not alone in this. There are a lot of other British business people who feel similarly but, when you see the potential problems we are going to face, the decision is taken away from you. That’s where I think Dyson has probably found himself. The costs and pressures of running a big business, particularly a global business, leave no room for uncertainty. Uncertainty is not really an option for business owners.

Irony

It’s ironic that the direction to save money and take back control of the UK will inevitably mean less control and less money. Why? Because if the amount of tax coming into HMRC is reduced the country is going to be poorer. With fewer business in the country, that’s less revenue, less tax. If tranches of wealth and revenue from business leaves the country, that equates to a significant dent in the country’s bank account. Whatever happens we will be a poorer nation by severing our European relationships.

Whilst it would be easy to dismiss the concerns as ‘Project Fear’, as Enders highlights, big businesses are already leaving. There are no brands that the government can take for granted.

These are not things that we can recover from in a single lifetime. You can’t just bring back 500 or 1,000 businesses that chose to leave. Moving a business cannot happen without significant planning and investment.

So what’s the answer? I wish I knew! Perhaps we all just simply need to know what to expect, what does Brexit mean for each of us, for businesses and for us all personally? What do you think? Are we heading into worrying times?

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