This weekend’s European election results have dominated newspaper headlines.
To some in the media, Europe’s swing to the Eurosceptic right amounts to a political “earthquake.” In reality, this was less a victory for the insurgent party, and more a failure of representative democracy. Just three in every ten people cast their ballot. The result speaks loudest about politicians’ failure to appeal to normal people.
But the implications of the shift amongst those who did vote should not be underestimated. An increasingly popular form of anti-immigration Euroscepticism has clearly resonated – but as small businesses, we need to make the case against it.
Away from the bluster and rhetoric, the reality is simple: cutting ties with Europe is bad for business. The EU is the world’s largest economy, and the world’s largest trading bloc. Close ties with the EU mean close ties with a vital export market, but, as China’s biggest trading partner, they also mean new routes into what will, by the end of the year, be the richest country in the world.
Of course, the EU is not perfect. There are legitimate concerns about UK sovereignty, and particularly about our ability to make our own laws. But the conversation around this important topic has been warped by wildly inaccurate claims. Eurosceptics are fond of insisting that some 70 per cent of our laws are made in Brussels. In reality, the figure is more like 14 per cent – and we must remember that British MEPs, when they turn up to vote, have a say in those laws. Indeed, Europe has been responsible for good directives that are directly benefiting small businesses, including relaxed accounting rules for micro-firms - rules which the coalition showed no interest in passing itself.
But we also need to tackle the immigration argument. This has become an increasingly important part of the country’s political discourse, but it too is based on distortions.
Migration is key to the UK’s economic success. We need immigrants more than they need us. Crucially, a major report from University College London found that recent immigrants have made a net contribution to the UK economy – and a “remarkably strong” one at that. Immigrants are 45 per cent less likely to claim benefits or tax credits than UK natives. They are a boon for this country not only as hardworking business owners and employees, but also, vitally, as consumers.
The UK finds itself in a precarious position. The economy remains on shaky foundations, and the promised upswing is yet to translate into material benefits for small business owners. Now, more than ever, we need to make the case that small firms, the backbone of the country’s economy, are better off with Europe – and better off with immigration. Now is the time for the UK’s business community to think carefully about its own position in Europe, and to shout loud and clear that we are better off in.