A poll of British and German companies operating in the UK has found that almost a third would consider moving jobs out of the country following a vote to leave the European Union.
In a survey of 700 businesses by the Bertelsmann Foundation, 29% of British and German companies polled said they would either reduce capacities in the UK or relocate altogether in the event of a Brexit.
Businesses in the IT and technology sector are particularly open to upping sticks after a referendum: 41% say they would consider decreasing capacity or relocating. But even in the less mobile manufacturing sector, 26% of respondents said they would consider leaving Britain. Only 13% believed a Brexit could increase national employment levels.
While the banking sector’s support has already previously given strong indications of its support for a vote to stay, the survey by the Germany-based thinktank shows strong pro-EU sentiments across the entire business community. Four fifths of companies surveyed in retail, IT, manufacturing, energy, telecommunications and finance said the UK should remain in the EU. Manufacturing, IT and consumer/retail emerged as the most pro-EU sectors.
Airline boss Carolyn McCall said at the weekend that a Brexit would raise the costs of foreign travel and mean that flying was “reserved for the elite”. McCall, the chief executive of easyJet, said British influence inside Brussels was essential to minimise disruption and administration between countries and keep down the cost of air travel.
For the survey, 404 UK-based and 378 German companies with operations in the UK were confronted with a “best-case” scenario, where Britain would be able to depart the EU as a political entity but still retain access to the common market.
“Given that we worked with such a ‘soft’ scenario, we were surprised to find how clear the pro-membership tendency was across British and German companies,” said Ulrich Schoof, a senior project manager at the foundation.
The Bertelsmann Stiftung, which holds a majority share in the media organisation by the same name, is generally seen as having a pro-European, free-market orientation.
The survey confirms finance as the sector most pessimistic about the effect of Brexit on employment, investment and revenue, with negative predictions outweighing positive views by a factor of four to one. Big Wall Street banks such as Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley are major donors behind the campaign to remain in the EU.
Many companies complained about burdens that came with EU membership, the most commonly cited burdens being complex regulation (34%) and uncertainty over the future of the euro (22%) – even though “complex EU regulations” appeared to bother UK companies (37%) more than German businesses (32%). Nonetheless, only 21% of companies surveyed believed Britain should leave the EU.
“Many small- and medium-sized companies complain about EU regulation” said Jürgen Maier, the CEO of Siemens in the UK. “But what people tend to overlook is that smaller engineering companies are often producing parts used by bigger engineering companies like us and therefore have to comply with those regulations either way.” Siemens employs 14,000 workers in UK, and claims that a further 24,000 jobs are linked to the company via its supply chain.
“You could call Brexit a risk, but I prefer to talk about what would be better for us,” Maier told the Guardian. “Do I want a future where we survive in the UK or do I want a future where we thrive in the UK?
“Of course, there may be trade barriers for Britain if it left the EU. But more importantly: we want the UK to be able to set standards for new development, and we couldn’t set those outside the UK. The same applies for research and development: you wouldn’t be able to define research fields relevant for Siemens in Britain.”
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