As the UK goes to the polls to vote in the EU Referendum, Oakman Inns & Restaurants chief executive Peter Borg-Neal gives his view on why we should remain. 

So, the time has come for Great Britain to make a momentous decision that will have a huge effect on the future of this nation.

I am hoping that the country will respond with a resounding vote to Remain in the European Union and to continue to fight to make it a better organisation and a greater force for good in the years to come. 

In between the demands of running Oakman Inns I have put as much time and effort as possible to campaign for a Remain vote. I passionately believe that is the right choice for our nation in general and our industry in particular. I would like to share with you my reasoning and, hopefully, persuade any last minute waverers to join me in voting to Remain. Let me explain why.

Before one gets into the arguments on either side of the debate there is the issue of timing. The world at present can be characterized by acronym VUCA. It is a military term that has been adapted by the business community and it describes an environment that is:

  • · Volatile
  • · Uncertain
  • · Complex
  • · Ambiguous

This environment has developed as the world attempts to recover from the financial crash at the end of the last decade and continues to battle with a variety of geo-political challenges such as terrorism. Taking huge risks such as a Brexit right now does not make any sense and would, from a British perspective, enhance all four components of VUCA.

Moving on to the main arguments that have featured in what has been, frankly, an unpleasant and polemic debate.

I would categorise them as follows:

  • · Immigration
  • · Sovereignty and Regulation
  • · Money

Immigration 

Undoubtedly immigration has become the dominant issue. This is both shameful and a complete red herring. The campaign against immigration has been lead by UKIP and by the nasty underbelly of our society. Inevitably, every vote for Brexit will be seen by Farage as a vote for him and that in itself should put off any right minded person.

In any event his agenda is futile - immigration will not reduce regardless of the decision. The methodology of how immigrants are selected might change but the numbers won’t. This country needs immigrants of working age to financially sustain its ageing population and to provide the necessary workforce to drive our economy.

Personally, I like the current situation. we have a large number of Europeans working for us – many in management or supervisory positions – and they are a vital part of our team. More importantly they are our friends. I believe it is a demonstration of the free movement of labour working perfectly. We need these people and they come because they can get better jobs here than elsewhere in Europe – both sides win. Some will stay here for a long time, maybe permanently, whilst others want to return to their home country as soon as their economy improves and they can get a good job. This is a good system. It benefitted British workers who went to support the construction boom in Germany in the early eighties, it has worked perfectly in Ireland with many members of the Irish diaspora returning since they joined the EU (then EEC) in 1973 and contributing to the economic growth there, and, it will work for the newer nations in the EU.

Immigration does of course drive more demand for housing and services. The Government should use the additional tax revenue provided by immigration to make the appropriate provision.

Soveriegnty 

All this ‘let’s take back control’ crap is pathetic.

The vast majority of power remains in Whitehall. That’s wht we have more than ten times the number of Civil Servants in Whitehall as there are in Brussels! The legislation driven from Europe has its genesis these by necessity. It is to cover laws and regulations that will impact on all members there. Indeed, much of the legislation has been initiated and shaped by the British Government.

As a Norwegian minister once put it, “if you want to run Europe, you must be in Europe. If you want to be run by Europe, feel free to join Norway.”

The next issue is regulation. The leave campaign claims that EU red tape hobbles Britain’s firms and strangles growth. Yet according to the OECD, a rich-country club, Britain’s product and labour markets are among the rich world’s least regulated – despite being in the EU! Moreover, the concept of a post-Brexit bonfire of market-unfriendly rules to reignite British industry is a joke. Britain led the charge for environmental rules, for example and many other areas. The biggest interventions in our sector, such as tight planning laws, aggressive licensing laws and ridiculous advice on alcohol consumption are all home grown. Furthermore, many of the European directives such as the Working Time Directive are, in a modern enlightened pub industry, forces for good.

The desperation of the Leave campaign to make their point in this area is demonstrated by the ridiculous fairy tales about bendy bananas, cabbage regulations and the export of haggis.

Money

Let us first look at the wider economy. It is incontrovertible that England was considered the ‘sick man of Europe” when it joined the, then, European Economic Community in 1973. At that point France, West Germany and Italy had a higher per capita GDP than Britain and the gap was growing. Between 1958, when the EEC was formed, and 1973 it had grown 95% in those three countries whilst in Britain only 50%.

After joining Britain began to catch up and, over the forty-two years since, GDP per person has grown faster than in France, Germany and Italy. By 2013 Britain became more prosperous than the average of those three economies for the first time since the 1960’s. Brexiteers insinuate that those countries set the rules to suit themselves and to disadvantage Britain – the facts make it clear that claim is nonsense.

So for over 42 years Britain has done relatively better than the rest of the world. The main driver has been membership of the EU, which has delivered benefits from trade, foreign direct investment, competition and innovation.

But, the Brexiteers all shout ‘We pay too much for the privilige’. They have constantly lied about the quantum we pay but, whichever number you use, it is great value. The economic value of being in dwarfs the cost. To put it into perspective the value of the FTSE 100 reduced by over £100 billion over four days when the Leave campaign took a lead in the opinion pols. This is more than the cost of twelve years of contributions to the UK.

Others have written ad nauseam about trade and the advantages of being in the EU. I won’t debate these here but if anyone really claims that being part of the most powerful trading bloc in the world is not beneficial then I believe they have either not thought it through or have a selfish, ulterior motive.

One thing we can be sure of is that, if we leave, is that our currency will welcome. We have already seen huge swings in reaction to each and every opinion poll. This morning none other than George Soros has said:

“Too many believe that a vote to leave the EU will have no effect on their personal financial position. This is wishful thinking. It would have at least one very clear and immediate effect that will touch every household: the value of the pound would decline precipitously. It would also have an immediate and dramatic impact on financial markets, investment, prices and jobs.”

In conclusion my view is that in the longer term, for our industry, the delivery of a full Brexit (as envisaged by the Leave campaign) would mean a big increase in the cost of imported food and drink. With the economy in decline we would be unable to charge more to our newly cash-strapped customers so margins and sales would fall. We would in any case be suffering from shortages of skilled people. Taxes would have gone up to cover for loss revenues. The Leave campaign would have got what it wanted – a pre-1973 Great Britain.

I am 55 so I remember my days. Trust me we don’t want them back.

Please do the right thing for the future of Great Britain – vote to Remain.

 

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