This article was first published on Huffington Post.
Throughout the year-long EU referendum campaign ‘Project Fear’ took many different forms. We had scare stories from the then Prime Minister, the then Chancellor, the IMF, the Bank of England, all sorts of economic forecasters and the EU itself, to name just a few. The most objectionable scare stories, however, came from a different source. These were the scare stories from large companies based in this country. They threatened there would be economic collapse following Brexit, as well as higher prices, lower wage – even threatening it would mean making their own employees redundant by being forced to downsize or move operations abroad. From the beginning this had one clear impact, but not the one they had hoped for. It infuriated their loyal customers and implied they treat their employees like worthless commodities. These large companies were happy to use their own employees as political pawns, to ensure they could have the regulatory model they wanted by staying part of the EU. This resulted in workers fearing for their jobs, their mortgages and where the next meal would come from.
We have now voted to leave the EU and these prophecies of doom have been revealed for what they are – scare stories – devoid of any evidence whatsoever. On a positive note, the conversion these large multinational companies have had is clearly miraculous. Far from Brexit being a disaster, they now agree with us Brexiteers about Brexit being an opportunity for an outward facing United Kingdom.
We at Get Britain Out thought it would be amusing to compare what these companies said before the referendum, with what they say now. After all, it says in the Bible “joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.”
German hi-tech and manufacturing company Siemens employs 14,000 people in the UK. Prior to the referendum they issued a press release stating: “In addition to the benefits of EU membership, we have concerns about what Brexit could mean in practice. Most commentators agree that a Brexit would disrupt the economy in the short-term and we believe that uncertainty about the UK’s future relationship with the EU could have more significant and negative long-term effects…This uncertainty, and threat of increased costs, could make the UK a less attractive place to do business and may become a factor when Siemens is considering future investment here.”
Once the referendum result was announced Joe Kaeser, the chief executive of Siemens, said “we’re here for the long-term and we don’t let ourselves get jerked up and down. We’re staying because the UK is a good place to do business and the company had been misunderstood in the heat of the Brexit campaign”. The company’s remarks before the referendum were quite definitive and didn’t lead to any misunderstanding, but if this is how they wish to ‘spin it’, we’re fine with that. It seems they have done a complete U-turn as Juergen Maier, head of Siemens UK, is no longer even calling for the UK to remain inside the single market. There was some suggestion of Siemens’ investment in Hull being frozen if Brexit occurred, however Mr Kaeser now says “the Hull investment is not in trouble at all. It was built for the projects we have and for those we anticipate getting”.
The pharmaceuticals giant GlaxoSmithKline’s chief executive, Sir Andrew Witty, launched into the referendum debate, claiming Britain is “much better off inside the EU than outside”. Additionally, he signed a letter to the Observer which asserted: “Leaving the EU would bring added complexity and uncertainty, which is bad for business and research”. Cue Get Britain Out’s surprise then when GSK announced after the referendum it was to invest £275 million to expand its UK manufacturing sites and creating new jobs. They decided on the investment as the UK remains “an attractive location” because of the UK’s skilled workforce and competitive tax system. Brexit clearly wasn’t “bad for business” after all!
Lloyds Banking Group initially warned if the UK voted to ‘Leave’ it would cause short-term “economic uncertainty”. In fairness to Lloyds this was far more honest than the majority of scare stories of total economic collapse spread around during the referendum campaign. On 28th July, The Independent led with an article entitled ‘Lloyds to cut 3,000 jobs and 200 branches amid Brexit uncertainty despite doubling profits’ – with similar articles across the mainstream media. Lloyds responded on their Twitter account stating “the decision to close these branches was made before the Brexit vote and is not linked to the result”. The truth is clearly an irrelevance to The Independent, which has now become the EU’s propaganda and lie machine since it has become an online-only publication. Will it survive, or will it be sucked down the EU-drain with all the EU rules, regulations and superfluous laws post-Brexit?
After many years flirting with moving its headquarters from the UK to Hong Kong, and criticising the over-regulation inside the EU, HSBC warned it could move 1,000 investment banking jobs from London to Paris if the UK left the EU. However, after the votes were counted, Douglas Flint, HSBC’s Chairman announced: “At the moment, the messages to staff are that the strategy hasn’t changed, you’ve got no change in your roles or your prospects as of today. It is terribly important that people don’t rush to react because they feel they have to, as opposed to saying, let’s see what happens.” Another U-turn!
The day before the referendum, Dixons Carphone boss Sebastian James claimed about the impact of Brexit: “It will cost more to import electrical goods from abroad, driving up prices in British shops.” Even worse, he said most people who were “open hearted and open minded” were in the Remain camp. Within two days (the day after the vote) he appeared to back down significantly by writing on Twitter: “Our company is the same, and our job is the same”. Let’s just hope those ‘closed-minded’ Brexiteers don’t start punishing his company for those despicable remarks.
In the immediate aftermath of the referendum, The Guardian ran an article entitled ‘British tech firms eye relocation after Brexit vote’ (24th June). However, a month later it was revealed venture capital firms have made enormous investments in UK tech start-up companies since the referendum. Data collected by the investment database Pitchbook for London & Partners, show UK tech companies have received $200m of funding across 42 deals since the EU referendum. Eileen Burbidge, a partner at Passion Capital, said “London remains the biggest tech centre in Europe and continues to attract the best talent and companies from all over the world”.
Carlos Ghosn, the Chairman of the car manufacturer Nissan, announced prior to the referendum “our preference as a business is, of course, that the UK stays within Europe. It makes the most sense for jobs, trade and costs”. After the referendum he had a change of heart, saying “I don’t think you can talk about any impact before we see what is the new status of the UK”. This didn’t stop him talking about the impact of Brexit before the referendum, sounds like he was simply spreading ‘Project Fear’.
In an opinion article in City AM on the 21st June, Declan Collier, Chief Executive of London City Airport, wrote an article entitled ‘The UK needs a global, connected capital city, and Brexit would put all of that at risk’. Once again it appeared a leading businessman had made a dramatic U-turn, as London City Airport has announced a £344 million expansion scheme in the aftermath of Brexit. This investment will create 1,600 jobs and add up to £1.5bn to the UK economy by 2025.
Deutsche Börse, the German equivalent of the London Stock Exchange, is currently in the process of a merger-deal with the London Stock Exchange. The day after the referendum, an investor in Deutsche Börse claimed “before Brexit, the chances of the deal going through were probably 50:50. Now they have sunk drastically”, with the Financial Times reporting the deal was about to collapse. Bundesbank board member Andreas Dombret said once the panic had died down, the business case for merging the London and German Stock Exchanges has been strengthened. We have seen Deutsche Börse’s shareholders overwhelmingly approve its merger, and at a meeting in London, 99.89% of the London Stock Exchange shareholders who voted and were present, voted in favour of the company being acquired by Deutsche Börse. The jury is out on this as far as Get Britain Out is concerned. Only time will tell if this is a good deal for the UK and the City.
Muller-Otvos, Chief Executive of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, a wholly owned subsidiary of BMW, wrote in a letter to employees before the vote, which included the following warning about Brexit: “Our employment-base could also be affected”. Mixed messages were sent on the 24th June with ITV reporting ‘BMW workers fear for their jobs after Brexit’. On the same day BMW said “it would not speculate about the outcome of these negotiations, nor about any possible effects that might have on our production operations in the U.K.” Once again, it didn’t stop them before.
As we can see the initial fear of Brexit has now turned to optimism since the referendum result was announced. It is clear big business feared Brexit because the future was unknown, but Brexit has become a reality, and the business opportunities are clearly endless. There was substantial talk during the referendum campaign of Brexiteers disliking experts. This is not true. We never thought experts were stupid, Get Britain Out simply believed they were trying to pull the wool of the Great British Public’s eyes to keep the status quo for their own specific advantage, rather than for the United Kingdom as a whole, something which has since been revealed to be true. Perhaps in the future, business leaders will stick to what they know best, rather than futile attempts to skew results in their sole favour or predict the future.