ANALYSIS: Can London remain the ‘tech capital of Europe’ if it goes against the wishes of the industry and vote for Brexit in the EU referendum?
This week is London Technology Week, an annual celebration of the capital’s technology industry – a success story that City Hall loves to shout about whenever it can.
It’s not hard to see why. London’s startup community is looking to spread its wings beyond ‘Silicon Roundabout’, the area in East London that has become the industry’s hub, and the UK is taking a lead in financial and e-commerce technologies.
During the recent race to become the new Mayor of London, all five leading candidates made it known they would continue to support the capital’s tech scene and acknowledged the economic contribution it makes.
London Technology Week
But the spectre of the EU Referendum, and the potential consequences a ‘leave’ vote could have on this success story, looms large over this year’s event.
Industry body Tech London Advocates found 87 percent of its members wanted the UK to remain a member of the European Union (EU), while another ten percent declined to give their view on the matter. This meant just three percent advocated a ‘leave’ vote.
Other studies suggest the technology industry is overwhelmingly against a ‘Brexit’. Just 15 percent of tech firms across the UK are in favour of leaving according to a separate poll by techUK, while BT and Virgin Media have said broadband infrastructure investment could be at risk.
The UK heads of IBM, Microsoft and SAP are among 34 to have signed an open letter urging the UK to stay a member of the EU. Hundreds of tech startups and entrepreneurs have signed a separate letter – the very types London is seeking to attract to Tech City.
Access to markets, talent and investment are just some of the reasons given by those who want to stay. This is before you consider that a vote to leave would threaten participation in the EC’s digital single market.
Threat to success?
TechWeekEurope readers are a little less emphatic but still in favour of remaining. In our poll, 34 percent of respondents said they didn’t think the UK was better off in the EU compared to 56 percent who said the country is better off as a member. The remaining ten percent said they ‘didn’t know’.
London & Partners claims London has become the ‘most desirable’ city in Europe for technology workers, ahead of Paris and Berlin. Such cheerleading from the promotional arm of the Mayor of London is not unexpected, but it’s difficult to see how the capital could continue to make such an unequivocal claim should it no longer be in the EU.
With so many technology companies, large and small, adamant that Brexit would make the UK a less attractive place to invest, there is an air of uncertainty hanging over this week’s event.
What started as a celebration, could be a damp squib by Friday.