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Ask the panel: Should we be in or out of the EU?

With less than a month to go until the 23 June referendum, the debate over whether Britain should leave or remain in the European Union is really gathering pace. But what will the decision mean for the North West in terms of business, development and growth? In this issue, we’re asking experts from across the region:

Q: Should we be in or out of the EU and why?

Ask the panel

L to R: Nik Ellis; Tim Aspey

Nik Ellis
director, Whitfield Business Support

We act for many small businesses in and around Wirral and have found that many are apathetic to the Brexit debate, mainly because their trading is locally based.

No doubt some of Wirral’s bigger importers and exporters will be affected in the short term but opportunities could develop from emerging markets such as China and India.

Many businesses simply do not know who to trust regarding the implications of an exit. The general feeling, particularly from more established businesses, is to stay in the EU, predominantly due to a fear of the unknown.

A few risk-takers will view the uncertainty following an exit as an exciting time of opportunity. If we do exit we can be certain of changes, some bigger than others, and no doubt some unexpected, but as a nation we have always risen to challenges.

I would hope that in this era of start-ups, rapid acceleration of technological advances and entrepreneurial spirit we take a positive, proactive approach.  Whilst not wholeheartedly decided my tendency is that there are plenty of potential opportunities offered by an exit, which seem to outweigh the negatives.

Tim Aspey
managing director, aport global laboratory relocation

It’s been said that leaving the EU would bring additional funding for the North West and help establish a Northern Powerhouse.

However, this is far from a certainty and I believe the major downside to a ‘leave’ vote would be the uncertainty it introduces to businesses of all sectors throughout the region.

For aport in particular, we don’t foresee either outcome having a major impact on our business throughout Europe.

The highly specialist nature of our business means we always need to work to the very highest standards and be aware of international laws. So in this respect the decision to stay or leave the EU would have little effect, as our regulations would not be decided by the UK.  But certainly for aport there would be little benefit in choosing to leave.

 

Ask the panel

L to R: Professor Richard Evans; Andy Williams

Professor Richard Evans
acting director and professor of urban and regional policy, European Institute for Urban Affairs at Liverpool John Moores University

Joni Mitchell sang ‘You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone,’ but would we really miss the EU? In a word, yes.

Unfettered access to the single market has given the region’s companies significant trade advantages, resulting in major investment and job creation and lured a lot of overseas investment into the region.

£2 billion Structural Funds have played a key part in the Liverpool City Region’s resurgence owing to its priority status (Objective 1) and such funds have also greatly improved the infrastructure of Manchester and other key urban centres.

European funding has also supported North West universities’ research and innovation activities such as the ground-breaking National Graphene Institute.

Eurosceptics argue that the UK is a net contributor to the EU but there is no guarantee that savings resulting from Brexit would be channelled to the region.

Brexit would immediately check growth and resembles a risky ‘leap in the dark’ in the longer term.

Andy Williams
founding partner, Powell Williams

I think we have to stay, the risks to the UK economy are too great. Going it alone is a complete unknown and the prospect of that uncertainty doesn’t make the UK an attractive place to invest.

The EU is a huge trading block and, as such, provides a buffer to wider global fluctuations, such as the slowdown in China or the problems with world oil supplies.

There’s also the prospect of Europe turning the screws with high import tariffs, making manufacturing in the UK increasingly unviable for foreign firms, or poaching large companies with tax incentives and the like.

Any of those issues could be enough to hit British businesses and, potentially, to send the UK back into recession.

The effect on the commercial property sector would be stark. Buildings are only worth the value they create, so businesses moving away or downsizing creates voids, rents drop and value is wiped off the balance sheet of UK plc which could see a slow deterioration in the economy and the same negative effect we saw on property that we’re just recovering from.