(AFP) – For Briton Damian Duffy, who has run flower shops for 20 years, a Brexit would feel like a “huge party”.
This despite British Prime Minister David Cameron, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and a host of multinationals all warning of a painful economic fallout should Britain vote to exit the European Union in a referendum on June 23.
“Everyone in this country who is not in big business has had life made more expensive and more difficult to live” as a result of Britain being part of the EU, said Duffy, the 48 year-old owner of Rosanna’s flower shop in Watford, a commuter town northwest of London.
Duffy, who owns three flower shops and employs eight people in and around the Hertfordshire suburb known for its English Premier League football team and proximity to the Harry Potter studios, said EU expansion has pushed up property prices in the area.
“Immigration policies have to change in this country,” Duffy told AFP, as his Thai wife busily prepared flower arrangements for a wedding.
Duffy claimed that an influx of low-skilled labour from the eastern European countries that joined the EU in 2004 had fuelled property demand in the area, pushing up prices. At the same time, he said, immigration had pushed down wages.
“My local customer base, if they are paying higher rent than they would have been doing normally, then their disposable income spend on businesses like this has decreased. It is a luxury business, not a necessity.
“As a business we do well, but it’s incredibly tough,” said Duffy as he pointed to a food store selling flowers on the opposite side of the road.
– Regulatory obstacles –
In an expression of his disapproval, Duffy joined dozens of other owners of small and medium-sized business in March signing an open letter on behalf of the Leave.EU campaign group.
From restaurant and cleaning business owners to shopkeepers and car repair centres, the EU is seen as cumbersome, inefficient and costly, at least among those calling for Britain to quit the 28-country bloc.
According to the latest poll by the Federation of Small Businesses, 47 percent of small business owners want to stay in the EU, while just under 41 percent want Britain out.
“Red tape and regulation are often seen by small business owners as a barrier to their business, with the EU often seen as a source of much regulation,” said Professor Stephen Roper, director at the Britain-based Enterprise Research Centre.
“Only about a fifth of UK small businesses export to Europe and so benefit from the single market,” he explained.
Their position contrasts with large multinationals like British energy group BP and banking titan HSBC who argue that remaining part of the EU provides stability by guaranteeing access to the single market.
– ‘Continue trading with Europe’ –
From his Watford shop, Duffy took the opportunity to hit out at the influence of a small number of multinationals owing to their “very close relationships with politicians”.
He also dismissed studies by the likes of the IMF and the UK Treasury that forecast an economic shock in the event of a Brexit.
“If you put a hundred economists in a room you will probably have a hundred different opinions,” he said with a chuckle.
With less than a month before voting day, the two camps continue to call upon expert opinions and numbers charts to support their opposing arguments.
At this stage, it remains difficult to imagine what would happen in the event of a Brexit.
“We want to continue trading with Europe,” said Duffy.
“All my flower suppliers are from Holland. I’m sure we can do very simple reciprocal trade agreements that would have no impact upon trading relations at all.”
It would certainly be in his interest that this happens in the event of a Brexit.
After all, the flowers that surround Duffy throughout his Watford store are picked all over the world, before arriving in Britain via the Netherlands.