The impact of Brexit on business is more substantial than firms are letting on, with large companies, such as Rolls Royce, moving operations to Europe behind the scenes, according claims by Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable.
A Lib Dem MP also told New Model Adviser® business owners had confided their worries in her, but said business leaders on both sides of the debate needed to 'make their voices heard'.
Addressing a panel discussion at the Lib Dem party conference on Saturday, Cable suggested many firms would not publicly declare their decisions to move business operations away from the UK for fear of reprisal from the government.
He said: ‘There is a lot of activity in the takeover market. British assets, British companies, are now very, very cheap. Last week, one of the few remaining British tech companies, AVEVA, in Cambridge, was bought out. They are just sitting there waiting to be taken over, because cheap currency has consequences.'
Cable acknowledged that devaluation of currency usually carries the upside of attracting exporters, but said this had not transpired since the Brexit vote as few companies were investing in the UK.
He added: ‘Very few companies right now are coming out and attacking the government, and why would you? They have to go to them for cash, for compensation and help, so they don’t attack them publicly, but what’s happening is a steady draining away of confidence and investment.'
Cable claimed he had been told by individuals working for Rolls-Royce it was 'quietly' moving operations out of the UK. He said:
‘I did my regional tour over the last few weeks. I was in the east Midlands and spoke to a couple of guys from Rolls-Royce, who said “we’re not publicly advertising this, but what’s happening at HQ is we are quietly shifting our operations to the continent, because we know that the aerospace industry is going to take a massive hit if we leave the EU”.’
A Rolls-Royce spokesperson told New Model Adviser®: 'Rolls-Royce is committed to the UK where we carry out the lion's share of our £1.2 billion a year research and development and employ over 22,000 people. In June we announced £150 million of new investment in UK facilities, including the construction of a new aero-engine tested in Derby. That is our biggest single investment in the country for over a decade.'
However, Cable’s warnings were echoed by Wera Hobhouse, the newly elected Lib Dem MP for Bath, who now sits on the Brexit committee in parliament.
She told New Model Adviser®: ‘It would not be for me to crystal ball gaze, but what we can see, talking not as an MP but because my husband has a manufacturing business up in the North West, is that a lot of people have started voting with their feet.
‘I can see why private businesses and people with clients who might be affected by coming out one or the other way don’t want to do that. We’ve seen that through the Brexit debate and then people come back to me once I’m elected as an MP and say to me quietly, “please do something about Brexit”
‘I’m inclined to say “why don’t you speak up?” because it’s so much more powerful if it’s also businesses rather than just me, but it is true, these people are worried that it would affect their business if they made a political statement. But I would very much welcome if individual businesses, like James Dyson [who campaigned for Leave during last year's referendum] did recently, would come out on Brexit and make their views heard.'