You are all fed up of this referendum campaign. So am I. But this is the most important vote that any of us is likely to make in several generations, so we need to keep focused on what is at stake.
This campaign has been dominated by the economy – and that is right, as it is the economy that is stake on Thursday. Many international and national institutions have weighed in – the Organisation for Economic Co-operation in Development, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, Her Majesty’s Treasury, the Office for Budget Responsibility, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the International Monetary Fund – explaining to voters that the consequences of leaving the EU will range on a scale from bad to catastrophic. For many this has become just noise: another report on the dire effects of Brexit. For all that all sounds so big and global, the effects will be felt here in Ipswich. Indeed, some in the town are already feeling what Brexit might have in store, were we to take that course of action.
Earlier this week I received an email from a large Ipswich company that does international consultancy work. The partner explained to me that they had just had a Chinese investor put a project on hold, such was the uncertainty around Brexit, a decision that will cost the firm in excess of £1 million in revenues. The company could not be more clear about the effect the choice ahead of all of will have on their growth: ‘in the event of a Remain decision, there will be a rapid return to the “normal” and we have been advised by investors that the appetite for inward investment into the UK will return, if not increase. In the event of a “leave” decision, we will enter uncertain times, where investors and politicians will be in uncharted territory, with unknown regulatory and financial outcomes; the net effect will a significant reduction in construction and infrastructure investment.’
It is not only this business I have heard from in the last few weeks. The largest three employers in the town have all explained how Brexit will materially affect their business and make it more likely that they will see jobs go. Indeed, BT has been very public in explaining how Brexit would constitute a very serious threat to our economy, as has Axa more recently. These are established businesses employing thousands of people in our town – jobs on which many hundreds of smaller businesses depend.
Take Love One, the great present shop in St Nicholas’ Street. Cathy Frost, the owner of Love One, has laboured night and day to get that business off the ground, and in so doing has helped lead the regeneration of the Saints area of Ipswich. She is clear that Brexit will affect her, because the people who buy from her will see their own jobs at risk and will become risk-averse. In small independent shops like Cathy’s I have met entrepreneur after entrepreneur saying the same thing: even the threat of Brexit is slowing down trade and were it ever to happen, they would fully expect to see profits decline, jobs lost and businesses fail.
People contemplating putting their cross in the ‘Leave’ box need to know that the threat of Brexit is already affecting our local economy; in practice it would see jobs go from our town and families left without income. That is what you call a DIY recession and – as some businesses can attest – the early breeze of the storms to come can already be felt.