“It took Greenland Three Years to complete its Two Year Exit from Europe Greenland has a population smaller than that of Croydon and has one issue – fish.” Lord O’Donnell
There has been much talk about the volumes of red tape involved in being part of Europe. The UK has been dealing with it for more than four decades and, under all that tape, found something worth the effort. In the face of all of that enforced uniformity the UK has managed to take the best out of the allegiance – and remain true to itself. Sterling remains while the UK immersed itself in an open market.
A vote to go will trigger an avalanche of administration that will make the day-to-day tape-taming pale into insignificance and the chances of the UK emerging within the prescribed two-year exit window are unrealistic at best. Tratos has an unusual perspective on the UK condition. The company has one foot in mainland Europe – Italy – and the other in the UK, where some of its manufacturing bases are located.
The 50-year-old family business was an early adopter of a pan-European – then global – view of the market place for its cable. One of the company’s sources of pride is its insistence on building its factories in deprived areas to create jobs and wealth for local communities. It did it in Pieve, Tuscany, and has continued to follow the blueprint in Merseyside. Ask one of the management team if the company is Italian, Anglo Italian, European or global, these days they’re more likely to say global, but its home is Europe.
While voting to leave the European Union on June 23 might look like a straightforward step, just the process of leaving, never mind the aftermath, is fraught. Former Cabinet Secretary Lord O’Donnell, who served under three successive Prime Ministers believes that extricating itself from the 28-nation bloc would be one of the hardest challenges the UK has had to face. Talking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he said: “I’m in that camp that doesn’t think we can do it in two years.
According to the EU’s Lisbon Treaty, a country gets two years to complete its withdrawal from the EU. This includes negotiating trade deals and other issues that will be affected from exiting the EU’s Single Market. Lord O’Donnell doesn’t think it can be done. ‘Leave’ campaigners have been quick to point to another country that fell out of love with Europe and voted with its feet, citing a ‘positive effect’ for Greenland when it withdrew from the EU.
According to Lord O’Donnell there’s no comparison, thanks to the disparity between the size and complexities of the economies of both countries. “Greenland has a slightly smaller population than Croydon and it has one issue, and that’s fish,” said O’Donnell.
“So with one issue, and a small population it took them not two years but three. We have multiple issues. The idea that we can do it all in two years I think is highly unlikely.”
It’s more than just timing though. Europe has been an enabler for long-haul, big-growth businesses like Tratos.
Tratos Director Neil Ancell says: “We have got to where we are in a landscape we understand. We have brought jobs and investment to the UK, and the UK has repaid us – with manufacturing facilities that have been incredibly successful and contributed to our growth.
“While Tratos is a family business we run our company as a corporation, with an external management board. We are corporate, but we retain family values. Those values have extended to business for us, with one of our real stronghold markets in mainland Europe and the UK. We view this referendum from the perspective of an Italian company, a British company and a European one. We struggle to see the sense in throwing out the good.”
A few years ago Tratos was unknown outside of its customers and those customers’ industries. Today the 50 year-old business is active in providing infrastructure cabling for power, telecommunications, rail, construction and more.
“When I look at our company I see that it is the whole of the group that is responsible for delivering the greater good, not just one isolated manufacturing unit or research and development lab. I can’t see how we can view leaving Europe any differently – we simply see the UK as stronger as a part of the whole.
“We should consider how a UK outside of Europe will look after 23rd June. While we can see there may be short-term gains from an exit; UK cable manufacturers benefiting from potential protectionist practices and home market gains, we do not see this as an enduring advantage. A flourishing home market for business will in turn lead to less investment, reduced innovation and complacency brought on by reduced pressure to be competitive.
“Weighing up the gains verses the losses brought on by a newly drawn marketplace outside the EU will need to be the priority if UK manufacturing isn’t to shrink further,” continued Mr Ancell.
Some of the family values that are held with high regard in business for Mr Ancell are loyalty and trust. Those values, he says, are at the heart of Tratos’ business. So much so that the company would sacrifice business before it compromised on its values. Outsiders might, at first glance, view Tratos’ values as naive or reckless. In fact it’s those traits that have set Tratos apart as something more than ‘just clever’. Honesty, loyalty and pride in delighting its customers, first and foremost within its European ‘family,’ has resonated well, thanks to its authenticity.
This one, modern, innovation-driven corporate organisation and venerable family business is convinced that stay is the only way.