Speakers; Ufi Ibrahim – British Hospitality Association
Bernard Jenkins Conservative MP – Harwich and North Essex (Director for Vote Leave)
We certainly had an interesting debate on the hot topic of the EU Referendum. Both our speakers spoke passionately about their views. The choice will be ours when/if we vote on the 23 June, many in the audience are still unsure or undecided; there are still too many uncertainties that could impact our sector. We had also invited representatives from the Remain campaign but sadly they declined to attend!
The BHA remains neutral on the referendum and Ufi reminded us what is so great about the hospitality sector and what is important to us. We are the 4th largest industry in the UK with over 40,000 businesses operating in our sector. We represent 1in 5 new jobs and being competitive is important to us, however we are losing some market share to the rest of Europe through Chinese tourism, our VAT rates are higher in comparison to other EU countries. Regulation matters to us and we should be concerned about the rise in Air bnb being unregulated with regards to H&S, fire and food safety. They continue to lobby government on these issues and many more. What we are seeing is people and business are putting things on hold until the Referendum and this is impacting hospitality. There are many questions still unanswered about the referendum that will impact us and we need to be lobbying more to get the answers and changes needed;
1. What will be the impact from EU funding on tourism, where will support come from?
2. We are a labour intensive industry so what will happen to workers moving freely?
3. What will be the impact on tourists being able to move freely across border?
4. What will happen to trade?
We also heard from Bernard Jenkins who painted a vivid picture of life in the 70’s in the UK when Britain first entered the EU. He said the UK is the 5th largest economy in the world and our trade with the rest of the word outside Europe is growing. He also said the idea of us being in a single market is no longer relevant today, we are global and the current Union model is not sustainable. He talked about democracy as being the right to make our own laws and not be governed centrally by Europe, his argument was based around us not leaving Europe but leaving the EU and he asked us what sort of country we want to live in?
People in the audience had many questions around what will happen to all our diverse employees the majority of whom are not British, will they have to leave their job and return home? What will the impact be on the cost of goods and ingredients coming in will we see a rise in our costs? Will the EU punish us if we leave? There are some many unanswered questions for many of us and it is the unknown that is making it difficult to decide. A show of hands amongst our audience of 60 people had only 4 decided on how they will vote and the remainder were still unsure. I guess we will have to wait until the 23 June to see what the country decides when we go to vote?