From the top · 24 May 2016

Emma Jones exclusive: “Vote Leave could not provide a compelling argument for Brexit”

Enterprise Nation's Emma Jones is among those joining Cameron's business ambassadors
Enterprise Nation’s Emma Jones chaired the Brexit debate amongst entrepreneurs

An EU referendum debate taking the temperature of small business owners in London and Birmingham has seen votes swing dramatically towards the remain camp.

Over the course of the hour-long debate, which was hosted by Enterprise Nation in the two cities simultaneously on 23 May, the proportion of small business owners voting to remain in the bloc swung from 57 per cent to 73 per cent in London, and from 77 per cent to 83 per cent in Birmingham.

A heated discussion saw Vote Leave representatives, entrepreneurs Jon Moulton and Arabella Arkwright, battle it out with “Stronger In” spokespeople, Innocent Smoothie co-founder Richard Reed and Brussels-based entrepreneur Catherine Stewart, in front of 200 UK entrepreneurs across the two venues.

Following a series of audience questions at the end of the debate, a strong appetite to understand the implications of a Brexit on Britain’s trade deals with Europe was revealed, as well as a desire for more information on how long new trade deals would take and what would happen for foreign-born entrepreneurs working in the UK were the country to leave.

Speaking exclusively with Business Advice, chair of the debate and founder of Enterprise Nation Emma Jones, said: “After the debate and the results of our polling, it is clear the Vote Leave campaign has the biggest amount of convincing still to do, as it is defending a position of uncertainty.

“Despite being passionate about the cause, Vote Leave cannot give proper answers to the questions entrepreneurs are asking. Will foreign-born business owners need work permits? Will the EU’s product trade mark protection change? What costs will be involved? Small business owners need certainty, and Vote Leave cannot provide a compelling enough argument.”

Jones, who recently returned from a trade mission to Berlin with a group of Britain’s most promising entrepreneurs, said that ambitious small business owners looking to export for the first time do not want to travel too far, and that the EU represents a large, established marketplace –  close to home and non-threatening.

Jones went on to say: “The consensus I’m hearing from small business owners is that, when you start exporting, it’s comforting to do so closer to home where there are fewer unknowns, rather than to China, say.”

The final Enterprise Nation poll conducted after the debate gave the strongest indication yet that small business owners will vote to remain in the EU on 23 June.

Combing the results from both London and Birmingham, 67 per cent of owners said they planned to vote to remain, with 79 per cent of those proudly stating how confident they were in their answer.

Whilst 60 per cent said that their decision was based on just economic factors, 22 per cent of entrepreneurs said their decision had been swayed by cultural arguments and feelings around being European.

Read on to find out which way  certain celebrities will vote ahead of the 23 June referendum.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Fred Heritage was previously deputy editor at Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and international relations from the University of Kent and an MA in international conflict from Kings College London.

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