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For democracy’s sake, UK tech staff need to vote in the EU Referendum

TechCrunch TechCrunch 18/05/2016 Mike Butcher

When it comes to startups trying to scale across Europe one thing is abundantly clear: although the market of over 500 million citizens in the European Union is far great than the US’s 323 million European startups are hobbled by fragmentation in jurisdictions, legislation and languages. With the caveat that language will always be an issue, it would seem simply logical to come up with a system to allow companies to capture that large, well-educated market in a scalable way.

It’s not been easy. It’s not been that fast. But The European Union has at least managed to harmonize many of the laws surrounding company operation, so that startups don’t have to with all 28 jurisdictions at once. Hiring within the EU has been made much easier by the EU’s agreements. Fundraising has been made much easier across borders. What startup in Western Europe has not taken advantage of the exceptional talent to be found in Eastern European member states? What Eastern European startup has not taken advantage of VCs in the West? I see it happen every day.

But let’s not assume that the European Union has been all roses. Let’s hear from the startups themselves.

What soundings have been taken so far?

Earlier this year UK tech startup industry body Coadec released the results of a survey. To gauge the opinion of the UK’s tech startups, it consulted startup founders, and people who invest in and work in the UK’s startups.

The survey found that 81% of respondents said the UK should remain a member of the European Union (the sample size was 175 startups).

For those who said the UK should remain, the key issues were:

• Access to a large single market, with harmonised regulations
• Free movement of labour, giving access to a talented workforce
• Having a ‘seat at the table’
• Stability and security

• For those who said the UK should leave the EU, the key issues were:

• Sovereignty
• Over-regulation and red tape

Overall the results of the survey above were not surprising. The UK’s startup community is international in its outlook and composition. The UK is jam-packed with Founders from across Europe (and the world). Access to Europe means access to talented staff and access to a trading block of 500 million consumers, even before you begin engaging with the rest of the road.

Yes, many said the EU is far from perfect, regulation can be tricky, and most agree that the pace of change at the EU level too slow. But overall, said Coadec, the benefits of access to the single market, harmonized regulations and free movement of labour, outweighed the costs. It therefore came out for a ‘remain’ vote.

Meanwhile, a survey by Tech London Advocates, found that 87% of those surveyed wanted the UK to remain in the EU; and software industry body techUK found that 71% of its members wanted to remain in a reformed EU.

So, the tech industry has been surveyed. The arguments have been put.

But it’s TechCrunch’s position not to be in favor of one political position. We simply believe that the UK referendum on membership of the European Union is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that cannot be ignored.

We don’t plan to tell anyone how to vote. But we do think that for the UK tech community to have its say on this incredibly important and historic decision, every tech worker, from the biggest international company right down to the scrappiest startup, should come out and vote.

And since many startups are created by young people today, the decision on the future of Britain’s role in Europe will have far-reaching consequences for this community.

It is they who should be at the forefront of this decision. Not the people who have already “made it” and will likely have a healthy economic buffer against any adverse effects of a “Brexit”, whether you think there will be any or not.

The effects of the EU vote will have an impact for years and years to come, and on the many new and young startups being created today. Yet on current polling, this demographic is reportedly the least likely to vote. That could be a tragedy for democracy.

Given the nature of technology, with servers in the cloud humming away, tech staff ought to be able to take a half day, or even day off work without anything breaking.

So, to that end, TechCrunch is declaring it’s hand: We want tech people in the UK to vote.

Let’s make June 23 in the UK “Tech Vote Thursday”.

We want all tech companies to allow staff time off to vote.

It’s up to you how long: a half day, a whole day and a party! Knock yourselves out!

Just make sure everyone has a chance to contribute to this incredibly important decision.

Whatever you do, vote for Tech on Thursday, June 23.

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