While a previous C&IT snap Twitter poll showed that 70% of event planners were keen to stay in the EU, this figure has now dropped to just over half. Around a third (32%) said they would be voting to leave, while 13% remain ‘undecided’.
For the 'stay' campaigners, one of the key arguments to remain has been the potential economic impact of a Brexit. Today, Chancellor George Osborne announced that leaving the EU would plunge the UK into a year-long recession, lowering economic growth by 3.6%.
The Treasury’s analysis is a concern that has previously been echoed by event agency owners, including Rick Stainton, managing director of Smyle. However, Stainton noted that despite industry fears, the last economic recession did good as well as harm.
"It shook up a complacent market with dated buying practices and budgets and little ROI analysis attached to them," he explained. Although he believes there's potential for a shake-up, it may not be enough to sway his decision. "The UK events industry has huge interdependence on the EU in terms of trade, travel and talent - is it worth trying to unravel that for a possible but unqualified longer-term gain?"
According to Nigel Cooper, the ‘fear campaign’ run by the remain supporters may encourage people to vote to leave. "Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith focussed his recent mayoral campaign on fear tactics, rather than policy. "Londoners have reacted badly to this, choosing hope over fear. The pro-stay referendum campaign is also based on fear and I wonder if that will deter voters from choosing the ‘stay’ option."
For others, the decision to remain is clear-cut. "I am very much in favour of staying in the EU. It’s a very romantic notion to want to leave, but I feel people are looking at the UK through rose-tinted spectacles," said Chris Clarke, director of Purple Dog Solutions.
"They’re forgetting that the world has become globalised since we joined the EU. In reality, I think it’s a backwards move. We’re still a small country and there’s power in numbers." He added that many event agencies work with global companies, who may do less business in the UK if the country votes to leave the EU. "There might be an impact on businesses looking to spend money in the UK. I think it will hit our economy and there may be a smaller client base for companies to work with."
The Meetings Industry Association (MIA) has announced that MPs James Heappey and Chris Heaton-Harris, who are both part of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the UK Events Industry, will be joining a high-profile EU debate tonight (23 May) at The Honorable Artillery Company, London, to reveal their position on the subject.
Topics will include the impact on employment, recruitment and contracts if the UK opts for the exit vote in the referendum. Other topics will include the impact on the economy and the tourism industry.
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