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We asked over 4,000 UK exporters to share their view on the upcoming EU referendum via a simple answer to the question –  Are you IN or Out?

As a translation business we know that our client’s fortunes and ours are dependent on exports, and importantly everyone who provided their feedback is involved in a business which relies at least in part on export sales, but it appears that opinion is divided even among those whose livelihood depend in some way on exports.

EU referendum Infographic
EU referendum Infographic

The results of our quick survey are surprisingly close with 55.5% of votes in favour of the UK leaving the EU compared to 44.5% in favour of staying in, a split which seems to reflect the mixed opinions within the political parties and the population as a whole.

Perhaps not surprisingly the reasons given by those UK exporters voting to stay IN were almost all centred on maintaining the status quo and an uncertainty over what might result from the UK leaving the European Economic Union.  UK exporters can’t be blamed for fearing the likely disruption of a potential exit and the impact it might have on their business, especially if they are currently one of the “winners” who are benefiting directly from EU membership.  Indeed those who gave a reason to stay consistently stated that it was “safer” IN and they didn’t want the potential commercial disruption which an exit might cause.  For example Pamela Cain, Director of Marchant Cain design put forward her perspective very succinctly when she stated why she was in favour of staying in “Why would you want to leave one of the most wealthy and prestigious organisations in the world to operate in uncertainty and potentially, chaos?

What we weren’t expecting were the wide range of arguments from UK exporters in support of a decision to EXIT.  For example John McDermott is the owner of CollCap Packaging – a truly international business based in Leek Staffordshire employing 50 people and with 50% of its turnover derived from exports.  John voted in favour of leaving the EU and commented that “I don’t see that this debate is about the economy at all.  The buying and selling of products will continue long after the vote one way or the other. For me, this is about regaining our sovereignty from unelected, corrupt politicians on a gravy train.

He went on to say “The original idea, centred on prevention of a war, was absolutely the right reason to bring an economic pact between nations in Europe, but not ever closer political union. It doesn’t work.  Just look at the closing borders now due to the immigration crisis and the debacle over Greece and its debt.  28 nations cannot be forced into one unifying entity regardless of what a few politicians may think.  The Brexit vote has been caused purely by the Tory party’s infighting, so the whole episode of a vote to leave the Union, probably the biggest decision in this country’s post war history other than the one to join the EEC in the first place, has come about due to fighting amongst a small political group.  If we vote out, then the political class that organised the vote will be deposed and we can get back to running the country for its citizens and welcoming foreign businesses to buy from us as well as tourists to visit us.

Mervyn Griffiths – Director Strategic Shipping Company Limited also voted for an EXIT, in his email he went on to say “The EU has morphed from an organisation born of high thinking in 1956, into a self-serving and moribund behemoth. It is incapable of and has no desire to change, it just exists to satiate its appetite for cash and the last thing it is interested in is the common good of EU citizens. Take control of our own destiny and we have an opportunity, remain within the EU and we will be dragged down with them and taxed beyond belief.

One of the OUT voters who wished to remain anonymous provided a copy of a comprehensive report which he had produced for his business which went into significant detail with no fewer than 17 reasons why he and his firm considered an exit from Europe to be the right choice.  Not least among these reasons was that, as the fifth biggest economy in the world, the UK is able to thrive on its own, and once outside the EU would be in a position to negotiate better free trade agreements with the rest of the world independent of the EU.

Freedom from rules and regulations originating from Brussels was an often sighted reason why UK exporters voted to Exit and one respondent sighted a study by Open Europe which estimated the cost of the 100 most limiting regulations from the EU reached £33.3 billion Sterling each year.

Not surprisingly a good number of those UK exporters who responded mentioned the desire to do something better with the Net £8.5 billion p.a. EU contribution.  One respondent went as far as to project a rise in the UK GDP from now to 2030 of between 0.6% and 1.6%

There was apparent widespread frustration at the political control exerted by “a non-elected Commission and the supremacy of the European Court of Justice”

I discussed the result of this survey with the owner of a large multi-national business earlier today, and he summed up his feelings by stating that this was the most important of decisions, and the business community was being asked to make that decision based on a lack of concrete information.  In terms of his own decision? He told me that while he can see very well that in the long term an exit would be good for his business overall, in the short term the timing of the referendum couldn’t be worse coming as it does hard on the heels of the worst recession in living memory, and a time when UK businesses are only just recovering.  His conclusion?  Either way his business is suffering from the uncertainty, and the sooner a decision is made, the sooner he can get on with building his business around the new reality whatever it may be.

What this survey has made extremely apparent is that the business community as a whole, and especially UK exporters who rely on international trade, need better quality information, not simply rhetoric and political point-scoring.  Currently even the most simple of statistics appear to be mired in uncertainty – there is no consistency for example regarding the reported figures for net exports to and from Europe.  Little wonder that the decision among UK exporters is for the time being at least, worryingly split.  Who better to make this decision than those of us whose businesses are involved in international trade, and yet we have insufficient quantifiable facts on which to base our opinion.  This is unforgivable when there is more at stake with this decision than perhaps at any time since the inception of the Economic Union and those of us at the coal face deserve to have all the facts on which to base our vote.