A survey of Kent business leaders, who attended an event last week to discuss the potential impact of Brexit on businesses in the county, showed that 65% want to remain in the EU. And 27% of attendees disclosed that the uncertainty surrounding the referendum result is affecting their business planning.
The event was held by leading accountancy and financial services firm Kreston Reeves and Furley Page, one of the region’s leading law firms. Around 100 attendees from a range of sectors listened to presentations from experts the two firms on key issues of interest, including commerce, competition regulation, agriculture and employment law.
Also speaking at the event at Bridgewood Manor near Chatham was Phil Eckersley, Bank of England Agent for the South East and East Anglia, who provided invaluable insight into the economy, focusing on matters affecting businesses within the region.
Following the presentations the organisers carried out a poll and of the 79 who completed ballot cards, 65% said they were in favour of remaining within the EU, while 35% opted to leave.
Attendees were also asked whether the uncertainty caused by the referendum had impacted on their short and long term planning - 27% confirmed that it was affecting their overall planning, with 5% saying it had hit their long term planning, 13% that their short term planning had been affected, while another 9% said it had affected both their short term and long term planning.
Clive Stevens, Chairman and Head of Taxation at Kreston Reeves, said he was delighted with the attendance for the event which provided an opportunity for the local business community to find out more about what a break with the EU could mean for them.
Speakers at the event included Peter Hawkes, Senior Partner and Head of Dispute Resolution at Furley Page, who discussed how the EU debate had become mired in claim and counter-claim about the worst excesses of EU bureaucracy, and what he thought Brexit could mean to the UK legal system under which businesses operate.
Andrew Masters, Partner and Head of Employment at Furley Page, spoke about how Brexit would have “a very significant” impact because the UK’s employment law framework is heavily influenced by EU sourced law in areas such as working time rights, discrimination, maternity and parental leave. He said it was no secret that the UK Government was unhappy with certain EU-imposed laws relating to working time arrangements, and that this and other areas of employment law could be subject to early change.
Sarah Bell, an agriculture specialist at Kreston Reeves, explained that UK agriculture and related business is intricately linked with the EU particularly when it comes to regulation, labour, subsidy and trade. Without EU subsidies to rely on, could our farmers expect a new system of financial support from Whitehall, she asked.
Rodney Sutton, Advisory and Assurance Partner and Head of Manufacturing at Kreston Reeves, examined the potential changes to the commercial context for business, pointing out that big business had been most vocal in their support for remaining in Europe principally because they trade more across the continent. He suggested that whichever side wins the vote will find it difficult to move forward after such a long and fractious debate.
The four speakers were joined by Phil Eckersley and Clive Stevens in a lively question and answer session with the audience, which covered topics including the likely impact of Brexit on the pound, Britain’s future trading arrangements with the world and whether we would seek to adopt the trading models of Norway, Canada or Switzerland, the likelihood of Britain adopting the Euro if we vote to stay in, and control of our borders and immigration controls.
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