As the deadline for applying to vote in the EU Referendum approaches what would be the impact on the UK’s small engineering businesses of leaving the World’s largest trading ‘club’ after 40 years of membership?

As a fifty something born in the mid-1960s I have never consciously known anything but being in the EU.  I vaguely remember my parents voting at the time of the first referendum but to be honest decimalisation and changing over to a metric system at school probably had more of an impact in my formative years. I have enjoyed free access to most of Europe and I have many friends who own property across the EU.  I can fly cheaply and freely to any of Europe’s capital cities – so why leave?

Union and EU Flag side by side

The Business Perspective

As globalization has taken affect small engineering businesses who are dependent on a large manufacturing base have had to develop an outward looking perspective in terms of both Customers and Suppliers.  This has forced us to embrace markets beyond the shores of the UK.  We now buy products from all over the World and seek out customers across the EU and beyond.   Leaving the EU would undoubtedly make things more awkward for our business from buying to shipping to seeking out new customers as we wrestle with trade tariffs, customs clearance and shipping charges.

This perspective is mirrored in a recent survey by the Engineering Employers Federation (EEF) which found that only 5% of its members support a Brexit and 61% want to remain.  Admittedly, the EEF has a number of large engineering businesses as members which perhaps skews the results a little.  The issue of Trade Tariffs has also been suspiciously absent during the referendum debates.  Its likely that Trade Tariffs will make our exports more expensive than at present and exports have been one of the cornerstones of the George Osbourne recovery plan.

Big business is undoubtedly in favour of remaining part of the Single Market because it makes sense for their business and the reasons they need to remain are also equally relevant for smaller businesses.  Dependent as we are on a good manufacturing base it makes sense to widen this manufacturing base as much as possible and remain outward looking as an enabler of growth.

A Personal Perspective

Some communities feel passionately about the influx of citizens from other member states due to the Freedom of Movement between states – that their communities do not feel the same as the balance of inhabitants changes.  However, the same could be said of the level of immigration since the 1960s as a number of our large cities and suburbs embraced their immigrant communities.

Some businesses have complained about the level of ‘red tape’ and bureaucracy that the EU imposes.  To be honest it’s a bit like ‘the pot calling the kettle black’ – the UK was the Worldwide inventor and exporter of bureaucracy and its an argument that’s on shaky ground – just ask the Founding Fathers of the USA.

We can only answer this fundamental question by looking at our own personal experience of the EU, how ‘european’ we feel and the personal impact of the freedoms the EU brings with it – not just our own freedoms but the freedoms for citizens of all member states including the levels of all immigration into the UK.

How do I decide?

We have been inundated with claim and counter-claim of the impact of leaving the EU so it can be difficult to sort the fact from fiction.  I would strongly recommend the BBC’s Reality Check for a factual and balanced view of the issues.  After that it’s about how you ‘feel’ about Europe and how much you are willing to sacrifice or forfeit to either ‘Leave’ or ‘Remain’



Anne Ford is a Director at PGM Reball Ltd - the UK's leading technical Ballscrew specialists