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If the UK votes for Brexit, there will be — as with all political experiments — a variety of unintended consequences. Many of these will fall hardest on the most vulnerable, in particular the young.
The first unintended consequence, though, will be that, paradoxically, UK-based international businesses will immediately invest more time, energy and money in western continental Europe to bolster their weakened positions. Often, this will be at the expense of their British operations.
For example, continental Europe is home to four of WPP’s top 10 markets. In the event of a vote for Brexit, we would need to increase our focus on those markets in order to maintain our influence and effectiveness. So, one of the ironies of a split from Brussels is that it will mean a lot more trips to Brussels.
The UK advertising and marketing services business is emphatically for staying in. A recent poll by Campaign, the trade magazine, found that 85 per cent of the industry is in favour of Remain. As the prime minister said this month, the creative industries are among the UK’s fastest-growing, due in no small part to their status as a global hub for talent: open-minded, outward-looking and seamlessly connected to international markets.
For our sector, as for the country as a whole, the economic case is overwhelming— across the entire spectrum of issues, from access to talent to trade and foreign direct investment. As with any merger or acquisition, the most important element is really revenue synergies. Britain in Europe will grow faster.
The Brexiters know this, which is why they are so determined to focus attention elsewhere, on the largely emotional argument over sovereignty (we will do better inside the tent) and, especially, on fears associated with immigration. That tactic appears to have had some success, as heightened media coverage of this most emotive of issues coincided with Leave opening a lead in the polls.
Cool analysis shows that migrants— the large majority of whom work when they are in the UK — have made a net contribution to the public purse. According to the OECD, the economic forum, immigration accounts for about half of Britain’s growth in the past 10 years. Despite widespread belief to the contrary, there is little evidence that migration increases unemployment or holds down wages for locals. This has not stopped the Out camp from encouraging and propagating these myths.
The advertising industry’s positive attitude towards EU membership (and immigration) may be a product of its relative youthfulness — most of those in the industry are under 40.
Opinion polls show that younger voters favour staying in the EU. For this highly networked, instinctively internationalist generation, borders of all kinds are increasingly notional. Their future is one of connectedness not separation. A retreat into isolationism is incomprehensible to those who have grown up in the era of Google, Facebook, Snapchat and cheap flights.
Nicky Morgan, UK education secretary, has pointed out that the young stand to lose most from a Brexit. The economic shock it is likely to deliver will be felt most keenly by people at the beginning of their working lives, as the squeeze on jobs tends to hit those at entry level. Lifetime earnings are dramatically affected by no job early on.
Leaving the EU would also reduce young people’s opportunities to travel, study and work outside the UK, damaging not only their individual prospects but Britain’s competitiveness at a time when international experience and a global outlook is of growing importance to employers.
Not everyone who supports Brexit is looking backwards to an imperial past. But they are voting against the wishes — and interests — of those who represent Britain’s future. My generation may not suffer too much, but my children’s and grandchildren’s generations will. Isolationism does not work, and is not the legacy we should leave them.
The writer is chief executive of WPP
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