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Leave: Truck seller predicts little risk to his business outside the EU

Nigel Baxter sells Renault trucks to the British market from a base in the north-east, and does not believe a Brexit would harm his company.

Indeed, like many pro-Leave entrepreneurs, his reasons for supporting the out campaign are more to do with democratic accountability than with the economic pros and cons. “It is about control. I passionately believe in small and democratic government,” he says.

And while for many Brexiters, “their only agenda is immigration”, Mr Baxter says he has “a basket” of reasons for voting Leave.

His company has benefited from employing migrant workers — he has been to Poland to recruit truck repair technicians who are scarce on the ground in the UK — and he says post-Brexit a “steady stream” of migrants will still be needed. But, he says, it is not just the pressure of immigration on schools and hospitals that worries him, but the impact on infrastructure.

“We both need to manage immigration and we need to manage the skill set of the people we allow to bring in to this country.”

Mr Baxter believes Michael Gove has presented the Leave arguments well and has been “hugely impressed” by Priti Patel. But, as a former Conservative party donor, he says he is “very disappointed” by David Cameron, and believes his position will no longer be tenable after the referendum.

The only Remain argument that really gave Mr Baxter pause for thought during the campaign was on the economy.

“The weight of information on the Remain side economically, for someone in business, I felt like we were being pulverised for a period of time,” he says. “What it does is it makes you question yourself. It made me go over and over again in my mind, can [a Brexit] really be like this?”

Nigel Baxter

But, in the end, Mr Baxter rejected the weight of opinion on the negative economic impact of a Brexit because “economics is forecasts”, all with a great degree of uncertainty. Whilst he believes there may be some “financial turbulence” after a vote to Leave, “I believe that’s something we have to navigate our way through and that will be in our long-term interest”.

Like many in the Leave camp, Mr Baxter believes a “sensible” trade deal with the EU will be concluded after a Brexit. “Logic tells me that trade will be fine. The rhetoric has been designed to bamboozle people and scare them into voting for the status quo.”

Remain: Fears voiced for NHS staffing if migration is curtailed

Dan Knowles

Last month, Dan Knowles sold his homecare business in a management buyout. If Britain votes to leave the EU on Thursday, he may well feel he sold at a propitious time.

An ardent supporter of remaining in the bloc, he believes that a Brexit would make it more difficult to get the staff which businesses like Mary Knowles Homecare needs. His views have not shifted over the campaign period, although he says the importance of the referendum has become increasingly clear.

“The nuances of the discussion have become much more apparent. The facts and the numbers are not absolute on either side,” he says.

That lack of clarity, he believes, is one reason why, with just a few days to go before the vote, so many of his friends in the business world had not yet decided what they were going to vote. For him, the impact on his own sector made the choice of which way to vote an easy one.

“Particularly in the care world I really believe that the resourcing implications for the NHS and for social care would be very significant if free movement of labour was diminished or taken away in the event of a Brexit.”

Despite Mr Knowles’ concerns about the impact of a Brexit on the ability of UK companies to attract and retain staff — already a real challenge in homecare — he says the referendum played no part in the discussions with the prospective buyers of his company.

Mr Knowles says the arguments of politicians on either side have not influenced him. Indeed he describes them as “weak, dogmatic and histrionic”, and reserves particular criticism for Boris Johnson’s comparison of the EU to Nazi Germany.

He says the people he trusts — rather than the politicians — hold widely differing views on EU membership, but are intending to vote “with their heart rather than their head”.

He believes the voting public has been “turned off” by institutions such as the IMF warning of the impact of a Leave vote, and that such warnings have entrenched opinion on either side.

“I would say there’s a large constituency of British people whose naturally bloody-minded attitude has come to the fore.”

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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