There’s no question that Dyson’s move from Wiltshire to Singapore will be a loss to Britain.
The company boasts profits in excess of £1bn, employs 4,000 in its Malmesbury offices alone, and is one of the UK’s major business success stories.
But that doesn’t justify the political backlash we’ve seen. In true polarising fashion, owner Sir James Dyson has been branded a deceptive Brexiteer who is now turning his back on the referendum result, to the tune of a “£60m loss in tax revenue” for the UK.
This has been used as proof that Brexit is harming Britain’s economy. But that’s only half the story. Turn your attention away from Dyson, to the flourishing portfolio of companies and investment flowing into Britain since its decision to leave the EU.
Look at Starbucks, which is in the process of closing down its Amsterdam offices to strengthen and expand its grip on London. EisnerAmper, a leading US accountancy firm, last year launched its London office – the first time that the company will have a base in the UK.
In addition, companies such as Legal & General and Unilever, which initially announced their plans to relocate post-referendum, have now opted to remain.
Brexit hasn’t seemed to dissuade industry movement to the UK. In some cases, it seems to have encouraged it.
None of these stories have garnered a fraction of the attention that Dyson’s Singapore move has. And this is part of a wider trend.
Far too often, politicians and commentators exaggerate the effect that Brexit is having. Their pessimistic rhetoric fails to match up with the reality – the rate of employment is at a record high, and wages are rising by the fastest rates in a decade.
Of course, Britain must not be complacent. There is a lesson to be learned from Dyson’s move, but it’s not one that fits into Brexit doomsday scenarios. Instead, the decision sheds light on where the UK needs to improve to reinforce its position as a global leader. The question we should be asking is what can Singapore offer that Britain can’t?
It is imperative for the UK to focus on its global competitiveness, to ensure increasing levels of investment and to attract more companies to its shores. Tax is a great place to start, and changes can be made at the domestic level, even before we’ve fully exited the EU.
In the age of global companies and online retail giants, corporation tax is no longer fit for purpose. It risks reducing investment in the UK as companies – yes, like Dyson – relocate to lower-tax countries.
It is workers who suffer the real burden – it is estimated that over half of corporation tax comes out of employee pay packets.
By making cuts and changes in our tax and regulatory systems to better compete with countries like Singapore, Britain would undoubtedly see productivity soar, along with increased global competitiveness, a better business-friendly environment, and hopefully an uptick in entrepreneurial success stories.
Focusing on a move from a company like Dyson fits in well with our Brexit obsession. But this time, it’s about something more.
Brexit might serve well as a symbolic moment to recharge our commitment to fiscal liberalism, but securing our status as a global leader actually long overdue.