EU – Remain or Leave

This is what I said to my staff prior to the EU Referendum:

We vote on 23rd June, as a country, for whether we remain in the EU or leave it.

How you vote is of course a matter for you. I will be voting ‘Remain’, and I want to share my reasons.


1. The EU is the world’s biggest free-trade area and the EU Commission is clearly working to creating a level playing field for all organizations within it. (we see this, for instance, in the death of high mobile phone roaming charges.) ‘Remain’ gives UK companies tariff-free access to hundreds of millions of customers – and, as UK companies are commercially competent and agile, that brings wealth into the UK, which is good for everyone. I can’t think of a single good reason for stepping away from this market.

2. This is particularly true for our financial services sector, which operates successfully across the EU as a whole – without being in the Euro, London is for instance the biggest European center for Euro trading; financial institutions and professional service firms base themselves in London and trade across the EU – and this gives them the best mix of UK regulation and EU access. I think that, as a country, we should keep this advantage – a successful financial sector is good for our economy.

3. A significant portion of inward investment into the UK appears to be driven by the linked access to the EU market; this inward investment is also good for the country, and it makes sense to try and keep it.

4. US companies are able to grow big by expanding into their huge domestic market before they have to grapple with foreign laws and trade restrictions – that same opportunity exists for UK companies with its even larger domestic EU market. If we want to compete globally, we also need the opportunity to compete in a big, local, open market.

5. We operate in an information and skills market place, where access to the best people is critical for organizations that want to compete at any level – and the fact that we can recruit without barriers from across the EU goes on helping us, as an organization, to grow and compete internationally. We need skilled people, and the UK simply does not have enough of the people available that we need. The EU is a huge, increasingly mobile talent pool – that gives EU organizations a huge advantage over others that are unable to access the same resources.

6. I’m an immigrant; as a company, we employ immigrants and EU nationals. We also employ people based outside the UK, elsewhere in the EU. Our growth plans mean we’re likely to be dependent on being able to recruit immigrants and other EU nationals for the foreseeable future. Immigration is good for Britain; the NHS appears to need a steady flow of immigrants to provide staffing at all levels, and immigrants are a net contributor to the UK’s GDP. Remember, the UK is essentially a country of migrants – Celts, Anglo-Saxons, Normans – they were all economic migrants of the time and now they’re part of the bedrock of UK nationality. We cope with – and benefit from – new people coming to live and work amongst us.

7. Finally, cyber security and data protection: the EU is, I think, the world leader in advancing regulation around protecting the digital rights of its citizens and requiring organizations to act against cyber risk. It’s a good place for a cyber security company to be operating.

NOT Leave:

1. There is wide-ranging and authoritative evidence that a decision to leave is likely to trigger economic problems for the UK – the decline this year of Sterling on foreign exchange markets, ongoing uncertainty in stock market valuations and recent declines in house prices have all been linked to Brexit uncertainly; certainly, we see clients delaying decisions on investments as minor as training courses because of uncertainty over the referendum. Those who argue that it will be alright on the night have no more certainty about that than we do if we say that we hope an enquiry will turn into a big sale next week. We don’t rely on hope to achieve our sales targets each month, and it doesn’t seem particularly robust to rely on hope that the UK might blossom economically as a result of leaving the EU.

2. It’s clear that, if we leave but still want access to the EU common market, we’ll have to accept EU Freedom of Movement regulations – so leaving will not end EU migration other than if we simultaneously give up on trading into the EU. Leaving is also likely to make the illegal immigration issue even worse: the UK will still be an attractive destination but it will no longer have its EU allies helping it restrict illegal migration into the UK and the UK’s borders will retreat from France and Holland to UK soil. Our border forces are already way too small to block all the current successful landings of illegal immigrants in small ports and airfields around the UK and, outside the EU, this will become even more difficult to do. We’d also have a new land-border in Northern Ireland – which was almost impossible to control when there were 1,000s of soldiers stationed there.

3. The UK has no current experience negotiating tough free-trading agreements – and, pitted against hardened EU negotiators (who may feel they have a point to prove) it’s difficult to imagine the UK negotiating anything like the current trade access without giving way on the EU redlines – which include freedom of movement, and equal playing fields. What we are likely to get is a worse trading situation but with much the same regulatory framework – and we would no longer have any input into making those regulations. The EU has no current international trading relationships with the features that the Leave team claim could be negotiated in quick time; I, for one, do not wish to rely on ‘hope’ for the UK’s future trading environment.

4. Leaving the EU would be like divorce, but on an international scale – we are significantly integrated into Europe, from Euro-SEPA banking through to health insurance, from pan-European railways to sharing an aircraft carrier with the French. We’ve apparently incorporated some 40,000 EU directives and regulations into UK law. All of this will have to be broken up. It will be messy and it will divert government attention from value-adding activities for years to come.

5. ‘We’d get our country back’ and ‘we’d rule ourselves again’ are two of the more vocal arguments I hear repeatedly; as far as I can see, the only way to achieve this would be to disengage from the EU completely – which would mean becoming a smaller, poorer, less successful country operating on the periphery of global trade blocs. The reality is that, in an economically, politically and militarily connected world, all successful countries must, to one extent or another, pool or share sovereignty – whether it is in military alliances (such as NATO), political frameworks (like the UN and a variety of UN and other international conventions), or in free trade agreements. International standards (such as ISO/IEC 27001) are a perfect example of the benefits of pooling sovereignty around a definition of good information security management system practice. ISO 27001 has been much more successful than BS 7799 ever was – and there are thousands of similar examples. Any meaningful form of ‘Independence’ is not a practical option for a smaller economy that genuinely wants to compete globally.

So, for me, it comes down to a choice between shared sovereignty and economic progress (Remain) or quasi-‘independence’ and a backward step, economically (Leave). There may, in any case, be another recession looming – and it will be colder and harder on our own than if we remain.

Whatever the outcome of the referendum, we can be certain that cyber risk will continue increasing – before and after the vote – and that our target customers will still need to address the issues. We need to continue prioritizing that message!