The upcoming EU referendum could redefine what it means to do business in Britain, and the City has emerged as a powerful campaigning voice in the debate. The chief executives of Numis Securities and CMC Markets have called for the UK to leave, opposing the views of the City of London Corporation and 36 FTSE 100 leaders who want to remain. Boris Johnson finds his views clashing with his party leader and even his siblings.
Yet one group that is almost unanimous in its desire to stay part of the European Union is London’s tech community. A survey by Tech London Advocates published this month showed that 87 per cent of tech professionals are in favour of remaining in the EU, with only 3 per cent calling for a Brexit. More than seven in ten believe leaving would make it harder to reach EU customers, while about eight in ten believe it will make it harder to employ people from EU member states.
The reason the digital community is so vocal in its support for EU membership is that Brexit would exacerbate many of the challenges the industry has worked so hard to overcome.
The talent shortage is the single greatest threat to both the London and UK tech sectors. Technology is our fastest-growing industry and an important source of UK economic growth, but I regularly hear from London startups and scale-ups about the difficulty they have in filling roles in areas like data analytics, software development, product management and cyber-security. Our city has unquestionably become the capital of European tech, encouraging the continent’s best talent to come here and work alongside our own home-grown professionals, but if we remove that supply, we jeopardise this position.
Tech success is often built on collaboration. This approach is what propelled Silicon Valley to such heights over many decades, and London is combining this collaborative manner with distinctly British values to catch up with some of the tech giants of California. But a Brexit would involve putting up walls at a time when we need to celebrate the international diversity of the city.
This is also a commercial decision. EU membership affords us access to a market of over 500m consumers, which the proposed Digital Single Market will make even easier to reach. British startups and scale-ups compete with US companies that can access a population of 320m from day one, so this breakthrough would give our companies a significant advantage in an area that the US has traditionally dominated.
The digital industry represents the future of business. The decision voters will have to make on 23 June is a choice between making London a digital city prepared for the future or bringing the country back into the past.
We would be risking our status as the world capital of finance and culture, and halt our progress to becoming a world-leading tech capital when we are already on our way to making this a distinct possibility. London tech has come out in full support of the EU, and I encourage others to follow our lead.