Speculation is rife over what Britain might look like if it leaves the EU, and many potential consequences remain unknown. In an open letter signed by 200 entrepreneurs, Innocent Drinks founder Richard Reed warned of the “economic shock” that Brexit would cause and the loss of investment for British startups.
Reed, who is also vice-chairman of the Britain Stronger in Europe campaign, secured the signature of prominent business people including Zoopla CEO Alex Chesterman, Yo! Sushi founder Simon Woodroffe and Lastminute.com co-founder Martha Lane Fox, as well as several FTSE 100 CEOs. Ocado chairman and former Marks & Spencer CEO Lord Rose chairs the campaign.
“The UK is the best place in Europe to launch and grow a business; leaving the European Union will undoubtedly undermine the ability of Britain’s entrepreneurs to start up, innovate, and grow,” said Reed.
But there are also plenty of business people who back Brexit. In March, the Vote Leave campaign published its own letter of 250 signatories that included JD Wetherspoon founder Tim Martin, luxury hotelier Sir Rocco Forte and Luke Johnson, chairman of cafe chain Patisserie Valerie. In a recent interview with the BBC, Martin argued it would be better for business “if we regain control of our own laws and economy” and that “in many respects” EU membership had harmed his company.
The prospect of Brexit could redefine what it means to be British. Advocates of remaining in the EU have argued that Brexit would represent an “isolationist” or “regressive” move that would signal Britain’s withdrawal from the global stage and a rejection of modernity, detracting from one of the key marketing advantages for British brands abroad. Countless brands trade on their British heritage, so any change in perceptions of the country could have implications for their positioning overseas.
Supporters of Brexit, on the other hand, suggest that leaving the EU could breathe new life into ‘Brand Britain’. In a speech earlier this year, justice secretary Michael Gove, who is backing the Vote Leave campaign, said Brexit would be a “galvanising, liberating, empowering moment of patriotic renewal”.
Figures from national tourism agency Visit Britain point to a booming tourism industry, with a record 35 million people visiting the country last year. The organisation declined to comment on the potential effect of Brexit, but revealed that 67% of visitors in 2015 were from the EU, accounting for 44% of spend. Like European workers, these tourists could be subject to new immigration and customs rules if Britain withdraws from agreements allowing freedom of movement.
During a debate at Advertising Week Europe last month, Bauer Media CEO Paul Keenan put the EU referendum in generational rather than economic terms, by suggesting that Brexit does not fit with the worldview of today’s digitally savvy millennials. “Young people are native multiculturalists and can’t imagine not being a part of that,” he said.