There has been a long-running narrative that business wants no Brexit, or at the very least a Brexit so soft it amounts to the same thing. This myth has been supported most ardently by big business groups like the CBI and by a number of MPs, notably Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, and Greg Clark, the Business Secretary.
The CBI is dominated by large multinationals, which have much to gain from maintaining a status quo whereby they can continue to segment markets, game the regulatory system and create barriers to entry that keep out their smaller competitors.
As someone who chaired the CBI’s distributive trades panel and served as the organisation’s economic spokesman for several years, I know well how this works. What’s more, as an entrepreneur who has done business on every continent, I can also say with certainty that what is best for the CBI is not uniformly supported across the business community.
Listening too much to the views of large corporations is a mistake, and it’s one that Hammond and Clark appear to be making. It is difficult to draw any other conclusion from the leaked transcript of a conference call they, alongside Stephen Barclay, the Brexit Secretary, had with big business leaders in which they seemed to promise that no deal would never happen.
Earlier this month, the campaign groups Leave Means Leave and the Alliance of British Entrepreneurs organised a letter calling for a no-deal Brexit that was signed by more than 230 business owners. It may come as a shock that so many think a clean break is the best option for them, but only 8 per cent of UK companies export to the EU and these exports represent only 13 per cent of our GDP.
The business groups have avoided asking their communities too many questions since the referendum, fearful of getting answers they don’t like. They are vested in the status quo.
During the referendum campaign, the Federation of Small Businesses found almost half of its members were determined to leave the EU. When the British Chambers of Commerce conducted a stratified survey, it found the only group with a majority for Remain were those who exported only to the EU.
The truth is that the business community is split on the issue, but it is the privately owned British companies, alongside the risk-taking, innovative entrepreneurs and the multitude of small businesses who most want to leave. It is these that create employment and are the future.
Businesses are not institutions to be preserved, our prosperity lies in innovation and change, not being tied to a chronically protectionist and failing zone which is the EU. Nor is it tied to rent-seeking, protectionist and anti-competitive multinationals.
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