Sir James Dyson recently restated his allegiance to the Leave campaign, calling the many uncertainties associated with Brexit “cobblers”.
Outdated terminology aside, a declaration for Leave from an entrepreneur of Sir James’s stature could influence undecided voters. His position is not new. Dyson’s support for Leave goes back to 2014, when he was battling German manufacturing giants and EU regulators over energy labelling rules. At the time he said, “I want to keep European free trade and free movement of people, but I don’t see that we need to be dominated and bullied by the Germans”.
Dyson’s argument comes down to a key concern: control. In theory, the take control argument is tempting, because it plays on the belief that a Leave vote would put the UK in a better position to define a brave new world, away from European bureaucrats. In reality, deconstructing the interdependencies that already exist between the UK and EU will be a heavy price to pay for a smaller market. While Dyson is a true innovator and makes a mean appliance, his argument doesn’t wash.
The benefits of control are limited unless they are accompanied by influence. Dictators often have control, but rarely exert influence beyond their immediate reach. Donald Trump would like to build his wall as a crude way of controlling the flow of immigrants to the US from Mexico. But this would come at the cost of his ability to engage the Mexican government on the issues that lead to undocumented immigration in the first place. Similarly, by leaving the EU, the UK would be taking its ball and going home. Through doing so, it would gain control but lose the ability to influence the European or global game in any meaningful way.
As an American entrepreneur building a tech business in the UK, I think the EU is worth having and being in. The challenges of today’s world extend beyond the borders of any single nation, and the solutions demand action on multiple fronts. For example, forward-thinking companies and regulators are currently reforming financial services by applying new forms of tech, making the sector safer, more competitive and more inclusive.
Here, the UK is leading the charge for three reasons. First, it benefits from a supportive and well-coordinated regulatory regime. Second, companies are able to access labour from across Europe in critical areas of technology, such as data engineering, where there are skills shortages in the UK. Finally, the UK is able to leverage London’s reputation as a global financial centre, a position made stronger by its connection to the other major economies in the region. As a result of these advantages, the sector is flourishing. According to EY, financial technology companies in London have total annual revenues exceeding £20bn, and the sector expects to add 100,000 new UK jobs by 2020.
In the event of a Brexit, the UK’s advantages would fade, and its appeal to migrant entrepreneurs as a place to start and grow a business would decrease. This doesn’t just hurt a privileged group of people for whom residency is a decision. Using data derived from Companies House, my company found that migrant entrepreneurs have created more than 1m jobs in UK SMEs. These are jobs that range from skilled, to semi-skilled to low-skilled, and are predominantly filled by native-born Brits.
In spite of the vast uncertainty of a post Brexit future, there is an allure to the idea of taking control. But it is time that people of all generations acknowledge the messiness and complexity of the challenges we face. Rather than chasing the illusion of control, the UK can choose to be a positive influence, shaping world events with the leverage it gets from remaining in the EU. This is no time to retreat.