Posted: Tue 24th May 2016
An EU Referendum debate held simultaneously in London and Birmingham saw small business votes dramatically swing towards the remain camp last night/Monday May 23.
The heated discussion with Innocent Smoothie co-founder Richard Reed, outspoken self-made entrepreneur Jon Moulton and Brussels-based entrepreneur Catherine Stewart, saw the London votes move from 57 per cent remain, 20 per cent vote leave and 23 per cent undecided to 73 per cent remain, 22 per cent leave and five per cent undecided.
Meanwhile in Birmingham, the live-streamed debate saw the already high remain vote move from 77 per cent to 83 per cent.
The three central debaters were joined by Britain Stronger in Europe adviser Gabe Winn, former head of corporate affairs at energy giant Centrica, Warwick-based businesswoman Arabella Arkwright, from the Vote Leave campaign. They were watched by more than 200 entrepreneurs across two venues.
Emma Jones, chair of the debate and founder of Enterprise Nation said: "Last night's debate was an eye opener. This is clearly something close to the hearts of Britain's entrepreneurs.
"The poll we did ahead of the debate showed two fifths, (41 per cent) had so far seen no helpful targeted arguments aimed at the small business community. They said the information had largely been around the impact on big business and employment.
"What came across strongly was there's a real appetite to understand the implications and the detail around what would happen to trade with Europe, but equally, how long any new trade deals might take and the implications for British-based, but foreign-born entrepreneurs running businesses in the UK.
"Some asked why we were so hung-up with Europe while Asia was booming."
Polish entrepreneur Piotr Kalkowski, 34, co-founder of Dublin-based Seven Social Dublin, now living in London, asked the panel if Polish, Lithuanian and other EU nationals would have to apply for work permits if there was a vote to leave Europe.
He said: "The answer was that it's impossible to tell. While Jon Moulton joked that they wouldn't be knocking my door and telling me to gather my bags and leave Britain, there was a sense that actually no one can give me a definitive answer.
"I'm an entrepreneur, I take calculated risks every day. I don't take unnecessary risks."
Gareth Austin Jones, director of British shoe manufacturer Cocorose London, asked about the immediate impact on trade deals.
Jon Moulton, founding partner at private equity firm Better Capital and the man behind the 2000 bid to save Midlands car manufacturer MG Rover said: "The Treaty of Lisbon says two years. But that's an unrealistic prospect. I believe there will be an important deal on the table immediately. It won't take two years."
Catherine Stewart, who runs a lobbying firm in Brussels added: "It would be for the 27 countries in Europe to debate any deal they are going to give us and we will not have a say. I wouldn't want to be in that negotiation."
Moulton added that British entrepreneurs would continue to trade with Europe under WTO agreements in the same way that the US does.
Richard Reed argued that the EU was an opportunity to reach 500 million customers, all operating under the same regulations. He called for the common sense approach to the EU vote.
He added: "What's the sense in turning round and poking your biggest customer in the eye?"
An Enterprise Nation poll, conducted ahead of the small business EU debate held at the London headquarters of the Institute of Chartered Accountants England and Wales (ICAEW), and Impact Hub Birmingham, suggested 67 per cent of the smallest firms were intending to vote remain, with a whopping 79 per cent proudly stating they were very confident with their answer.
While 60 per cent said their decision was based on economics and nothing else, 22 per cent said their decision had been swayed by the cultural argument around feeling European.