Lancashire businessman Tony Attard, CEO of fabrics manufacturer Panaz, gives his personal view on the debate over whether the UK should remain in the EU.
I am not an MP or a Euro MP – I am a business leader and an employer in Lancashire. It is my responsibility to create a safe and prosperous environment for my company and staff.
My professional role is CEO of Panaz Holdings.
Our largest export markets by far are the USA and Europe. I also export to China, the Far East and Russia, but believe me the easiest markets to access by far are in Europe.
I am clear that my strategy for growth is linked to the single market.
I have just started to implement a growth strategy that includes employing more sales/ marketing and distribution people in Europe to give us more access to one of the biggest markets in the world, which in turn will lead to more jobs in our Burnley HQ.
Business has plenty to criticize about the EU, but overall I believe its benefits outweigh the costs – even amongst those running smaller businesses.
Britain since joining the Economic Union has never fared so well. Two hundred thousand UK businesses trade with the EU, it is our largest trade partner, accounting for 51 per cent of all UK exports, £146 bn of goods were exported to the EU. In the North West we exported £13.5 bn worth of goods or 52 per cent of all our trade.
Germany is the North West’s second top export destination, but six of out top 10 export destinations are in the EU. To put this into context we sell more to Benelux than we sell to the whole of the USA. Let’s not forget about foreign direct investment, membership of the EU also brings about a great deal of this important revenue stream.
The UK is the largest recipient of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the EU and many firms invest in Britain because it gives them access to the single market. European business accounts for 48 per cent of all foreign investment in the UK. It has been said that the European Union will lose more than us in a trade war, this is not the case. Only 12 percent of goods exported by the Union as a total ends up in the UK.
A clear cause for concern amongst many people is immigration and our border control. It’s common sense that we cannot accept more people than we can care for, house, educate or provide work for, but let’s be clear – half our immigration does not come from the EU but from the Commonwealth. And many of our migrant communities go on to provide great wealth for this country. I should remind you that our Ugandan Asian communities now run some of the largest businesses in the UK. Dolar Popat arrived in the UK in 1971 as a 17-year-old with £10 in his pocket; he is now Lord Popat with a fortune of £70m. My grandparents were refugees fleeing from the ravages of a war-torn Malta, so I too am a descendent of refugees. Without immigrants we would not have a functioning health service or a transport system. Britain is wealthier as a community and as an economy with migrants coming into our country, it just needs to be managed with common sense. The Open borders policy is an important aspect of life within the EU. We want to move freely in the union, we also want the freedom to be able to live or work in other EU states.
In answer to these issues David Cameron has negotiated certain treaty changes that will reduce the current very high levels of population flows from within the EU into the UK, by restricting benefits such as in-work and child benefits. He has also negotiated an emergency brake system that will enable us to stop new arrivals should our public services be overwhelmed.
As in many things we need to move away from rigid positions and look at reality
I believe that you can never gain anything by moving away from the opportunities to negotiate and discuss, but the fact that we can vote out and renegotiate to stay in is a fallacy. We need to stay in a world that is drawing closer together; leaving would be like going against the tide of what is happening in the world. Technology is creating a global village and making the world ever smaller.
Make no mistake, a divorce is painful and has to be the last resort; is the gain worth the risk? Britain leaving the EU would be like an amputation and very painful. I know that many people believe that the Europe we joined is not the Europe we were promised. It’s different to 40 years ago – of course it is – the world is also very different that is why we need to renegotiate our role. It not hard to be vexed by some of the ways the EU works, but irritation is not the reason to end a 40-year-old relationship.
Currently Britain is the best-performing economy in Europe and in 20 years’ time, at present rates, could be the largest economy in Europe. We have the longest and most historic foreign policy reach – why would we want to risk losing this by with drawing away from the strength of the EU and access to a market of 500 million customers?
This is a long-term decision that will have long-term impact on us our children and our grandchildren and so must be taken very seriously.
To loose allies and to loose a seat at the table is simply beyond my comprehension.
Britain is better leading and not leaving the European Community