EU referendum: What UK businesses want to know

Published · 4 min read

We’re on a mission to make sure that the voice of the small business is heard in the run up to the EU Referendum vote. That’s why we asked you, the UK’s business owners, to put their questions about the referendum to an expert panel in the #SageDebateEU earlier this week.

Joining our host Ian King inside of The Shard were one hundred Sage customers, ready with questions about how an ‘in’ or ‘out’ vote would impact them. Taking their questions on the panel were Anna Soubry, Minister of State for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise; John Mills entrepreneur, founder and Chairman of JML; Emma Jones, small business expert, author, and founder of Enterprise Nation; and Craig Beaumont, Head of External Affairs, Federation of Small Businesses.

Joining the author, entrepreneur, minister and business expert were a team of business bloggers, on hand to steer the debate. With a little time to reflect on the day, we asked the team for their thoughts on #SageDebateEU.

Missed the debate? You can watch a recording of the session which was streamed live on 7th March 2016 on Youtube.

Ola Agbaimoni, Eelan media

When business people are given the correct information they are capable of making informed decisions. I was surprised to hear just how may business are saying that they don’t have the facts and would like clear information from both sides of the debate. A straw poll at the start of the debate showed that approximately one third of businesses were undecided; this had reduced to a quarter by the end of the debate. Small businesses have very specific requirements for information and it is incumbent on both the leave and remain campaigns to provide this openly and honestly.


I started as a ‘don’t know’ at the beginning of the #SageDebateEU, and after listening to the points of view of the panel, I’m still a (slightly better informed) ‘don’t know’.

John Mills presented the first out argument I’ve heard that sounded considered; He demonstrated conviction, persuaded by facts, rather than an emotive knee jerk view built upon mislead sentiment. This wasn’t sufficient to move me either way on the debate, but was an informative counter to the homogenised message of the in campaign and the sabre rattling of the different out campaigns. I look forward to continuing the debate surrounding this important subject that will affect the future of our country, people and businesses for generations to come.

Kevin Poulter, Partner, Child & Child

The #SageDebateEU provided an opportunity for business leaders to quiz political and commercial influencers on what Brexit might mean for them. The voice of the SME can sometimes be lost, but at the event it was loud and bold, with genuine concerns being brought to the table.

One of the most interesting points was raised by Anna Soubry, who asked those in attendance which EU Regulations were negatively impacting their business. The room fell silent. This was a perfect example of how the perpetuation of false information and myths may prevent serious conversation around the Referendum which is built on honesty and fact.

As an employment lawyer, I was interested to hear the concerns of businesses around EU citizens in the workforce. There appeared to be a wide-ranging need for access to a pool of workers which at present is fulfilled by our participation in the EU. Any immediate cessation might have a significant impact on productivity and affordability, possibly leading to some labour intensive organisations to irreparably suffer.

Alina Cincan, Inbox Translation

The main takeaway from Monday’s #SageDebateEU has been that more facts are needed in order for people to make an informed decision when it comes to voting in the upcoming referendum. Instead of focusing on scaremongering and putting forward known faces, both sides should present more facts and figures on how a Brexit will impact various categories of people, including small businesses, particularly those who have working relationships with EU countries. We need more than speculations, ifs and maybes. We need clear facts.

Jeremy Corner, Blue Eyed Sun

The debate was a really useful starting point for me to able to consider the implications of staying in the EU or exiting. In truth, I think that small businesses will adapt and change regardless of the outcome of the vote. The key thing is to have good balanced information and all the facts small business owners need to make the decision

Janice Gordon

Some very interesting comments came out of the #SageDebateEU yesterday. “We have to be careful of urban myths about EU regulations” said Anna Soubry. Interestingly, John Mills mentioned some of these with his statements on immigrants relying on the state; a lively debate ensued and Ian King was able to maintain order.

The EU Late payments legislation has been positive for UK small businesses among many others directives, and I doubt whether the UK would have these positive benefits without the critical massive behind them. By the end of the debate, the undecided had moved from 32% to 24% which was a result.

Alex Jordan, Hyperlink Media

The EU debate is hotting up, but so far campaigners are sending mixed messages. #SageDebateEU intended to answer the questions in order to make the right decision on whether or not the UK should leave the EU. It certainly did that for me.

As a small business owner, employing a French national and buying and selling from the EU, I am concerned that there is no certainty as to what will happen whichever way the vote goes. The debate suggested that there would be at least a 2 year grace period, should we exit, in which very little would change. However, when Emma Jones asked the room to name an EU regulation that has negatively affected their business, I, like everyone else in the room, couldn’t think of any. Whilst I am personally still undecided (I want to explore the non-business implications of the EU), the debate addressed many of the business issues which I was concerned about.

Claire Martinsen, Breckland Orchard

It was a fascinating forum, thanks to its representatives from politics and businesses large and small. What made the debate really come to life were the brilliant, insightful questions from business owners. The the hour went by in a flash, and I came away feeling more informed.

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