Now the election fever is over and the country has had time to come to terms with a Conservative majority, the next hot topic has emerged. An EU referendum represents the next wave of uncertainty to hit the UK and the 'in or out' debate has already dominated the headlines as people begin to wonder what our future role within Europe is destined to be.
This is a critical issue for everyone up and down the country, and one that is often misunderstood. The aftermath of a referendum on this will affect us all, so we cannot afford to underestimate any possible outcome. This debate is especially precarious for UK business owners who rely on European investment, trading and skills to enable growth, strengthen brand identity and maintain an attractive USP.
In my last blog I discussed the impact the ambience of uncertainty had on the business community and it seems this is set to continue. Deutsche Bank's recent announcement epitomised this as it confirmed rumours that it will consider leaving the UK if Britain votes 'out' in this referendum. Deutsche Bank is the Eurozone's second biggest bank based on assets, it has 16 offices in the UK and employs 9,000 British employees. This could be hugely impactful for our economy and for UK businesses and I expect this will be the first announcement of many in the next 12-18 months.
We cannot ignore the statistics in this discussion; the EU is one of the UK's main trading partners, worth more than £400bn a year – 52% of our total trade. Businesses on the ground are already sharing their concerns about how a "Brexit" might affect exporting services and key relationships with potential European clients.
If we were no longer a member of the EU, businesses are asking whether we would be subject to the same politics and economics, yet without any say in their submission. In this sense, an "amicable divorce" is a pipeline dream, an unrealistic approach that could lead to further destruction.
One of the key business risks we take by voting to opt "out" is the loss of foreign investment. So far in the debate, these implications have been severely underestimated. Foreign investors view the UK's position in Europe as a major plus and have been eager to take advantage of what we have to offer.
'Throughout the election, the Tories definitely positioned itself as the party for business, which I think is one of the main influences behind its current success. David Cameron's small business rhetoric really won the heart of the business community and his constant referral to small businesses as "the lifeblood of the economy" managed to increase the confidence of entrepreneurs around the country.'
Read James Caan's take on the election here.
(Photo: Getty Images)
Just look at our car industry; we export 35% of our trade to the EU and the industry is completely foreign-owned. Not everyone agrees with the diminishing presence of traditional British investment, but through this, especially in the case of the UK car industry, we have managed to protect and create thousands of jobs and directly improved economic growth.
The UK has the fastest-growing economy in Europe, we are getting stronger by the day and I am very proud to be an entrepreneur here. I am dedicated to creating the best economic landscape for fellow entrepreneurs to flourish and prosper, but to do this, we need to sustain our key assets.
I always tell my team "out of sight is out of mind". In recruitment, if you're not busy building relationships with candidates and clients, they'll forget about you in an instance.
Perhaps the same can be applied to a "Brexit" – if we are no longer a key member of the EU, will our presence start to dwindle? Will we no longer be a main trading partner? Entrepreneurs take risks all the time, we cannot be afraid of failure because we will inevitably fall at some hurdles along the way. However, the pros should always outweigh the cons and I'm not sure a "Brexit" provides this kind of stability.
Attracting the best and brightest
As employers, we cannot ignore any changes our relationship with the EU may have in our ability to attract talent from abroad. Our economy has thrived due to our ability to attract the best talent from around Europe. The freedom of movement is beneficial to us as employers as it means we can recruit from a far wider talent pool, thus helping to tackle the UK's skill shortages.
Many people are eager to participate in the referendum because they believe being part of the EU is expensive. I understand that making this saving could mean more investment in education, welfare etc, but let's put this into context; our membership cost less than 2% of our GDP in 2010/11.
Compared to the fact 52% of our trade is with EU countries, this doesn't sound huge. Of course, it is still a lot of money but in comparison to what we could possibly lose in terms of foreign investment and how many UK jobs could become vulnerable, can we really afford the risk?
Businesses are telling me they want reforms that will address the implications of red tape and I fully support the need for restructure, with small businesses and entrepreneurs at the forefront. A referendum in which Britain stays in a reformed European Union, as Cameron has suggested and is already discussing with European leaders.
This upcoming referendum presents an opportunity for businesses to help inform the general public decision. It is really important that businesses engage in this debate – we cannot sit on the fence.
Become part of the movement; share your views about how this might impact on your business and workforce, helping us all to create an environment where all UK businesses have the potential to thrive.
James Caan CBE is founder and CEO of Hamilton Bradshaw, a venture capital firm based in Mayfair, and a former panellist on BBC series Dragons' Den. He supports many charities and established The James Caan Foundation to support education and entrepreneurship in the UK.
You can follow James Caan on Twitter @jamescaan.