Brexit could signal brain drain for UK tech

Steve Evans

Wednesday 4 May 2016

The upcoming referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU could have drastic consequences for the UK tech scene, from the ability to attract workers to growing a business across the continent.

There’s been much debate about the positives and negatives of Britain’s membership of the EU since Prime Minister David Cameron announced a June referendum. Politicians and people from various industries have been setting out their positions on the ‘in or out’ debate, and of course technology is no different.

London tech wants to remain

If a recent survey is to be believed, it’s quite clear which way the UK tech scene is leaning. Tech London Advocates is a group of nearly 3000 “leaders, experts and investors” representing the London technology scene, which offers support and networking opportunities.

As reported by The Guardian, the survey found that 87 per cent of Tech London Advocates members were opposed to a Brexit. Additionally, 10 per cent refused to offer a view and just 3 per cent said they were in favour of the UK leaving the EU.

Those in favour of staying said they were concerned with the potential impact a Brexit could have on a variety of business issues. These included worries about recruiting and retaining talent from within the EU, difficulties in conducting business across Europe, and whether international companies would be as willing as they currently are to invest and operate in the UK.

UK tech brain drain

One fear is that businesses currently coming to London, whether startups just beginning their journeys or established companies looking for European bases, may be more tempted to invest in a European city should the UK exit the EU. The Guardian reported that Paris, Berlin and Stockholm would be the most likely beneficiaries.

TransferWise is one of the hottest startups in the UK tech scene – headquartered in London despite being founded in Estonia. Its co-founder Taavet Hinrikus has gone on record saying the company would consider its options if the UK leaves as accessing top talent would be more difficult.

Those in favour of leaving

But there are voices within the UK tech industry that believe leaving is the best option. Another recent survey found that 15 per cent want the UK to leave, a number significantly higher than Tech London Advocates figures. Those in favour of a Brexit believe it will give UK companies more flexibility in the global economy and in setting their own agenda, and make them more competitive on the international stage.

The obvious concern for many tech companies should the UK leave the EU is the potential for brain drain. Although it is unlikely that EU workers here in the UK will have to leave, the worry is more about the ability to hire new workers. If technology companies choose to set up offices in an EU city instead of the UK, those locations will become much more attractive to workers.

Many of the exact details of what a Brexit will really mean for the UK tech scene are yet to be revealed, but it seems clear that the majority involved in the industry wish for the UK to remain part of the EU.

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