How will you vote on 23 June, and why? That was the question we put to IoD members from our Policy Voice and Director Reader Panel communities. They lead companies large and small, from a range of sectors, up and down the UK, and their opinions do not necessarily reflect those of their organisations – but they have one thing in common: they’ve all made up their minds. Here’s how they will be voting in next month’s EU referendum, and their reasons for reaching those decisions…
The IoD is remaining impartial in the EU referendum debate – focusing on helping members to access all the information they need to make the right decision for them, and ready to support UK business whether the public votes to leave or remain in the EU on 23 June.
But you, our members, have already indicated a leaning towards staying in Europe. In an IoD poll of 672 members – conducted following the summit at which David Cameron announced a package of reforms to Britain’s EU membership – 60 per cent revealed that they will vote to remain in Europe. Meanwhile, 31 per cent said they will vote to leave the EU and nine per cent responded that they didn’t know how they intend to vote.
“Our members have concerns about the way the EU operates in some areas,” says IoD director general Simon Walker. “But this is balanced against the ability to trade easily across the single market. Their operations are deeply entwined with the EU – more than three-quarters have commercial links with other member states. It is worrying that four in 10 firms have not discussed the EU referendum in the boardroom… all firms should consider what the potential outcomes would mean for them.”
The members here have made up their minds. This is how they’ll be voting, and why, and how you can share your views with fellow members by joining Policy Voice and the Director Reader Panel…
Remain – Francis Kiernan
Managing director, ABIS Holdings Energy Services, Aberdeen
“I will be voting to stay in the EU. I have been in the energy business for 40 years. Global has happened: acquisitions and mergers, bigger global players, SMEs utilising the IT revolution to rationalise the architecture. The EU is the biggest market in the world. Inside the EU we know the outcome, we are a key influencer in creating the outcome. Brexit is an unknown, it is inherently higher risk. In my business life the mutation of business has led to the expression ‘world class’. The UK is in the world. The City of London may not need the EU, for the rest of the UK it is a necessity.”
Francis Kiernan is a member of IoD Aberdeen
Leave – George Kieffer
“From a personal point of view, it is governance and accountability that concern me as much as economic factors. The EU has not had a clean audit report for over 19 years and we commit over £350m every week to Brussels. That is enough money to build a brand new hospital every week, half England’s schools budget and four times our science budget. In spite of being a key financial contributor to the EU and having the fifth-largest economy in the world, following qualified majority voting we now have little or no say in how Europe is run. We are by nature a maritime nation and global free traders, and the EU is increasingly a protectionist block with its share of world trade declining, dragging ours down with it. I am convinced that British managers can handle the economic uncertainties as they have done in the past.”
George Kieffer is a member of IoD Essex
Remain – Fiona Mee Alvares
Director, York Associates International, York
“We will be voting to stay in the EU. Firstly, it is our core market. Our staff and clients must be able to travel freely around the EU and to and from the UK. If we left the EU, we are concerned what impact there would be on this freedom of movement. Secondly, many of our clients come to York with the help of EU Erasmus funding. In addition, we tender for EU work. In total this is worth £250,000 per annum in revenue and could be lost if the UK left the EU. Finally, we are an outward-looking company. We are most concerned about the long-term damage that support for leaving the EU, negative attitudes to international students and migrants, and the potential break-up of the UK is having on how the UK is viewed. Great Britain is likely to become ‘Little Britain’ if we are not careful.”
Fiona Mee Alvares is a member of IoD North Yorkshire
Remain – Ralph Lucas
Director, Forward Progress, Conwy
Sector Management consultancy
“It is my personal opinion that it is vital, in order for the UK to maintain a strong economy, that we continue to trade within a European common market on some format. What the people of Britain, and other European countries, have been exposed to is a hijacking of the common market in favour of imposing a deeper cultural and social union across Europe. This involves integrating economies, cultures and policies that are all subject to differing conditions, and inclinations. A huge percentage of our international trade is with other European countries, though this was the case before we went into the original EEC and will, without any doubt, still be the case if we were to leave. The opportunity for real reform may have been wasted by the government’s recent, weak, negotiations, though this is what is really needed. For economic reasons we should remain within a European union, for social reasons we should leave.”
Ralph Lucas is a member of IoD North Wales
Leave – Clare Ward
Managing director, Clare Communications, Manchester
Sector Public relations
“Definitely out! There are too many EU regulations restricting UK businesses, which is one of the reasons why I do not have full-time staff on the payroll. If an MEP can take home more than our prime minister, there is no doubt that the whole business of the EU is chaotically run to say the least. The European Union was supposed to make people wealthier but the EU’s share of the world economy has fallen from 30 per cent to 17 per cent between 1980 and 2015. How can we trust them to run anything? These facts alone should be sufficient to dictate our exit from the EU. The £8.7bn per year we give to the EU could be better spent on our affairs. It is obvious Europe needs the UK more than we need Europe. We are a global player on the world stage and we should act like it.”
Clare Ward is a member of IoD Manchester
Remain – Laura Koskenmäki
Managing director, Morgan Chex Commercial Finance, Kent
Sector Financial services
“We see no benefit in leaving the EU, creating economic uncertainty at potentially global level. The leave campaign lacks vision and answers on how to deal with significant uncertainties that leaving would create, and has no concrete evidence of the potential upside. Our view is that free movement of labour and capital within the EU is good for business and Britain should remain. Red tape created by the EU should continue to be tackled and challenged and one would expect most of the countries to support.”
Laura Koskenmäki is a member of IoD Kent
Leave – Simon Boyd
Director, John Reid & Sons, Dorset
Sector Steel construction
“Membership of the EU impedes the progress of our business and restricts our ability to invest, diversify and grow. The EU has produced a steady stream of bad directives; take, for example, the ever-looming threat of losing the UK’s opt-out from the Working Time Directive and the ability of the ECJ to overrule our UK courts. The potential changes to the Working Time Regulations will negatively impact every business in this country.
“CE marking has created an expensive paperwork exercise that makes it harder to compete in the world market. And what about the demise of British Standards, seen by many as the finest in the world, replaced by European Norms? What about the over-regulation in health and safety, and employment law? All good employers want a safe workplace and a fair deal for employees but the regulations actually make this harder.
“We are fed up being told there is nothing we can do about it by our elected ministers. In short, we’ve lost control. There are more than five million SMEs in this country, employing 15.6 million people. It’s their voice that needs to be heard. SMEs are embedded into local communities and we pay all of our taxes. Far from being a step into the dark, it would be a leap into the light for us to leave the EU. It is for these reasons that I will vote leave.”
Simon Boyd is a member of IoD Dorset
Remain – Kim von Arx
VP EMEA, Authentic Web, London
“I can’t vote in the EU referendum as I am not a UK citizen, but having followed the discussion it has struck me as being more an emotional than factual debate. Keep in mind, this vote will affect the UK for generations to come and as such, emotional and inflammatory rhetoric is counterproductive and may lead the UK down the wrong path.
“EU membership has pros and cons – no question. I believe, however, that the UK is better served being part of the EU so that it can lead the EU change movement from within. But, in order to be taken seriously, the UK needs to show commitment to the EU – at least in principle. Walking away is the immediate, easy way out, but for the long term? Has the UK not shown the world in its varied history that it has gained influence and respect exactly because it stood up and took the leadership role with determination to spearhead the way for change and innovation?”
Kim von Arx is a member of IoD Central London
Leave – Patrick Rea
CEO, Sales Process Engineering, London
Sector Marketing and sales
“Vote Leave – there is less economic and business uncertainty for IoD members in us leaving than staying, as we will then regain more control of the legislation and regulations that affect UK businesses. As the fifth-largest economy, the UK will be well positioned to negotiate a free trade agreement with the EU – with whom we have a negative balance of trade – but also with Commonwealth countries, India and others too. The same organisations that want us to remain also wanted us to join the euro. The ‘mission creep’ of the EU from its original purpose as a common market ultimately to a sclerotic federal state is inexorable and we need to leave now. It will help the UK and provide the essential wake-up call to other EU countries. We will not exit the day after the EU referendum – there is no reason that there should not be ample time to negotiate separation and a new, revised relationship.”
Patrick Rea is a member of IoD Central London
Remain – Colin Stroud
Managing director, Contractors Machinery, Cambridge
“Originally undecided, I will now vote to remain. As an exporter with 35 years’ experience, I think the government’s claims about impediments to trade, travel and security if we exit are missing the point. A lot has happened since 1975 and I believe most of the existing agreements on trade, investment, immigration and human rights would have come about even if we had never joined the EU. I think France and Germany are feeling out of sync with Europe. Other governments have looked at our renegotiations sympathetically. The UK should now team up closely with France and Germany to revitalise Europe, this time setting the agenda away from suffocating, restrictive laws and focusing on priorities such as security and defence.
“I sense a burgeoning confidence in the UK where Europeans are flocking towards our more innovative economy. Our global influence is enhanced by being front and centre inside a strong and united Europe where UK opinions count more than we think. Our government should take the lead.”
Colin Stroud is a member of IoD Hertfordshire
Remain – Laura Davis
Managing director, Reality HR, Basingstoke
Sector Human resources
“My personal view is that the UK should stay in the EU. From running Reality HR and considering SMEs generally, leaving the EU could result in a huge amount of confusion for both employers and employees alike as the government is likely to take back the authority ceded to the EU under the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. This legislates on a huge range of HR topics from the working environment to protect workers’ health and safety, to the protection for workers on termination of their contracts. If the UK left the EU, several entrenched and perceived ‘rights’ that have come from Europe would still be expected by UK employees. In addition, EU withdrawal and any consequent changing of employment law may result in changing employment contracts on a wide scale, with a possibility of employment then re-employment on revised terms in some cases. This will simply be so difficult to manage for SMEs.”
Laura Davis is a member of IoD Hampshire
Comment from Simon Walker: ‘Business is not split equally’
As our members know, the IoD is not taking sides in the EU referendum beyond reflecting the view of our members. That said, I have a particular issue with the strained efforts of elements of the media to portray the ‘business community’ as split down the middle on EU membership.
Businesses are split on whether to stay in the European Union. But the split is far from even. By two-to-one IoD members favour staying in the EU. British Chambers of Commerce members show a similar pattern. Among the larger corporates and manufacturers which make up the CBI and EEF, the position is arguably even more pro-EU.
That is not how those positions are reported. The EEF’s poll had 61 per cent of its members wanting to stay in Europe; 34 per cent were undecided or said the vote didn’t matter to their business. Five per cent said they would definitely vote to leave. The Times report on that poll began: “Nearly 40 per cent of British manufacturing businesses do not support the campaign to stay in the EU.”
In a survey where just one in 20 respondents said they will vote to leave, that is a fairly generous interpretation. The Sun’s report of the IoD survey was headlined “Bosses wary on red tape” … “two-thirds of bosses do not believe David Cameron’s promises to cut EU red tape will work”.
That was true. Two-thirds of our members are unconvinced about how much the EU will cut regulation. But they had to dig deep to tease out that particular angle in a survey which reported that by two-to-one IoD members are in favour of staying in the EU – a fact The Sun omitted.
Of course, newspapers may not agree with the opinions of business leaders. But they should not strain every sinew to present business as split along the same lines as the public. The fact is, it isn’t.
Policy Voice is the IoD’s authoritative public policy panel, allowing directors to shape the IoD’s approach to the key business issues. To join today, visit iod.com/policyvoice
To join Director’s Reader Panel, email firstname.lastname@example.org
The EU referendum takes place on 23 June
For access to a host of IoD resources on the EU referendum, visit iod.com/referendum