I’m positive about leaving

By - Tuesday 21st June, 2016

Local businessman Az Chowdhury presents a case for leaving the EU that’s more upbeat than others you may have read

On 23rd June, each of us has the opportunity to cast their vote in the EU Referendum. How will it affect the country as a whole, and us in Croydon? Ultimately, should we vote to remain or leave?

I will be voting to leave the EU. And my decision is made for, I believe, positive reasons.

I want a more democratic, entrepreneurial and forward looking UK, better able to engage and trade with the world at large in the modern era. I want us to have more control over our laws, economy, and borders. And I want greater political accountability to ensure that those who make the laws and regulations affecting the UK can be endorsed or rejected by UK voters at the polls, not hide behind the anonymity of EU officialdom. And I believe that this will be good for our local economy in Croydon.

It would be wrong of me to take a view that all immigration is bad. After all, I’m an immigrant

At the moment, around 60% of new UK laws come from the EU: hundreds of new regulations and directives are created each year, affecting everything from energy prices to the price of a locally brewed bottle of Cronx beer. These regulations also impact businesses like my own small company. They take a huge amount of time and money to deal with which, in turn, restricts the number of people that I can employ, reducing the numbers who could be spending their lunch money with our local pop-up street food vendors on Surrey Street and their beer money in local pubs. Even tax levels are affected – we cannot vary the VAT rate beyond a certain range set by the EU and we cannot cut or cancel VAT on particular goods without the agreement of the EU.

The control of our borders is a valid issue too. Being able to control migration is not an isolationist viewpoint: it would be wrong of me to take a view that all immigration is bad. After all, I’m an immigrant. I was born in Bangladesh and am the son of a (retired) restaurateur. But I concur with the government’s view that net migration has to come down. The problem in trying to deliver this is that we are unable to do much about immigration from within the EU, leading us to focus on restricting immigration from outside the EU. We simply don’t have any flexibility.

When the family business was in full flow with The Jalalis and Spice River in South Croydon through to Novaroon in Coulsdon we faced, first-hand, the issue which is now taking the curry industry to breaking point. Strict immigration policy has seen Indian restaurants struggle to attract the very best curry maestros from abroad, whereas an unskilled EU citizen can come to the UK without question and without a prospect of a job – this issue alone caused the closure of two of our businesses.

We should be looking to strike trade agreements with the 80% of the world that’s outside of the EU

In short, decisions are being made at an EU level that have big effects on all of us – our employment prospects, how much tax we pay, how much our food or fuel bills are – but over which we ultimately have little or no control. The UK is constantly outvoted by other EU countries in the Council of Ministers. If we do not like those decisions, we cannot just vote out our own government or yell towards the direction of our local MPs at the top of our voices, and expect different outcomes. The EU will still plough on regardless and we pay the princely sum of £10 billion per year for membership to allow this to happen, money which we can surely spend on better things, be it on the NHS, cutting taxes to make our economy more competitive, or investing in new local transport or housing schemes here in Croydon.

As a company, we act for regeneration schemes all over the country. Combined, these developments and projects have an investment value of over £4.5bn. Will these projects disappear into thin air after a vote to leave – unequivocally, no. Local government forms a large part of my business, and if for a moment I thought that I would be jeopardising the long term growth of my business and more importantly the people’s livelihoods that I am responsible for, my opinion would be very different.

Let no-one tell you that Croydon’s regeneration would stall if we left the EU

The truth is, the EU is a construct of the post-war world, a different era. The UK joined in the 1970s. Fast forward forty years, and the world has changed. We now have the internet giving individuals and businesses greater opportunity to interact than ever before; emerging superpowers like India and China offer huge scope for new trade. At the moment the EU’s share of global trade is declining whilst the rest of the world’s is increasing. Of course we should continue to trade with the EU, but we should also be looking to strike trade agreements with the 80% of the world that’s outside of the EU, to maximise our country’s wealth and boost job opportunities for young people, something of particular importance to Croydon.

And here it is worth addressing the fear, genuinely held by many people: that if we leave the EU somehow we will not be able to trade with EU countries in future; that they will lock us out. That simply will not happen. The reality is that you do not need to be a member of the EU to trade with it. European countries need our business too; it is in their interests as much as it is in ours that we agree a trade deal as soon as possible after we vote to leave. Let no-one tell you that Croydon’s regeneration would stall if we left the EU. Investment will still flow into our town and, indeed, the rest of the UK.

Ahzaz Chowdhury

Ahzaz Chowdhury

Ahzaz (Az) Chowdury is the founder and Managing Partner of Croydon-based corporate affairs agency Nudge Factory. With experience of working at national government level, Az advises businesses on CSR, communications and community relations. Having lived in Croydon for all but his first four years, he is proud to have kept his business local and to be involved in promoting the regeneration of Croydon's town centre.

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