Enough With the Brysterics, Let’s Brelax!


The counting officers had barely finished hereby certifying the number of votes cast and rejected in last week’s Brexit referendum before anxious ModSquad employees in Northern Ireland began asking us if they would keep their jobs. Just last summer, we announced our selection of Derry, NI over Dublin, Galway and Berlin as our first operations center in Europe.

Certainly, the United Kingdom’s membership in the European Union was an important factor in that decision.

Understandably, many of our 80 employees in Northern Ireland are shocked and worried about Brexit. While the UK electorate voted to leave the EU by 52% to 48%, the numbers were much different in Northern Ireland, where 56% voted to remain. In Foyle, where our Derry operation is located, the vote was an overwhelming 78% to remain.

More than England and Wales, perhaps, the citizens of NI feel a close connection to the rest of Europe. The Republic of Ireland’s border is only four miles away from Derry, and NI has strong cross-border arrangements with the rest of the Europe. In total, NI has received more than £1.5bn in funding through EU regional, peace, agricultural, and social programs. There were very compelling reasons to vote to remain.

On the other hand, British sovereignty and freedom from burdensome regulations are compelling reasons for leaving. As an American commentator pointed out:

The EU has a flag no one salutes, an anthem no one sings, a president no one can name, a parliament that no one other than its members wants to have more power (which must be subtracted from national legislatures), a capital of coagulated bureaucracies that no one admires or controls, a currency that presupposes what neither does nor should exist (a European central government administering fiscal policy), and rules of fiscal behavior (limits on debt-to-GDP ratios) that few if any members obey and none have been penalized for ignoring.

After all, this was the same EU that reportedly tried to require that restaurants present olive oil in factory packaged bottles with a tamper-proof “hygienic” nozzle and printed labeling in line with EU standards. No olive oil jugs allowed!  Sure, the Leave camp may have exaggerated claims that the EU bans recycling tea bags and kids from blowing up balloons, but the fact unelected bureaucrats in Brussels even have the power to impose rules like that is enough to consider leaving.

With good arguments on both sides of the debate, we’re taking all the clucking and handwringing with a grain of salt. Yes, the financial markets are rattled, but the stock prices of public corporations hardly affect a private services provider like us. The pound has plunged to a 31-year low against the dollar, but most of our clients pay us in dollars. So it’s bad for our NI employees – those overseas vacations just got more expensive – but a strong dollar isn’t bad for the company.

Instead, there are three factors that will probably determine our resolve to continue our investment in NI. They are European integration, the free movement of workers, and most importantly, peace and stability.

Yes, the UK’s membership in the EU was a key reason we selected Derry, NI. With our primary goal being to expand our client base in Europe, it’s imperative for us to have a location that is respected by the rest of the continent, geographically accessible, and culturally relevant. Membership has those privileges, but hopefully a Brexit doesn’t change that. Switzerland, Norway, and Iceland are not EU members, but they are certainly part of Europe (i.e., blue areas in Risk) and they have negotiated separate agreements to access the EU’s common market. They just don’t have the same interference (or benefits, depending on how you look at it), as full EU membership.

Probably the most appealing feature of EU membership for an outside company is the free movement of workers. EU citizens are entitled to look for a job in another EU country, work and reside there with their families without needing a work permit, and stay there even after employment has finished. As a service provider, knowing we can easily hire from 27 other countries, especially from the Republic of Ireland right across the border, is a critical benefit. Yes, it’s unsettling to hear stories that the leave vote may have been fueled by irrational xenophobia, but again, Iceland and Norway have negotiated their own rules for the free movement of workers, and it will be important for the UK to do the same after a Brexit.

Thirdly, it’s crucial that a Brexit not disrupt the peace and stability in the region. The referendum has revived calls for a united Ireland, and the UK’s membership in the EU has helped mollify Catholic nationalists over the years. We don’t have a dog in that fight (although the Republic of Ireland’s 12.5% corporate tax rate is pretty sweet), but it is important that the debate remain democratic and peaceful.

Finally, doesn’t Parliament need to actually vote on this? So what if a majority of people that day voted to leave?  In America, the only thing we vote for by national popular vote is American Idol.  We don’t even let our people vote directly for President, much less on complicated international trade arrangements.  Apparently, yes, the MPs will take a vote in November, and there’s certainly no guarantee the Brexiters will carry the day.

So yes, there’s anxiety, but except for death and taxes, nothing is certain. Even if there is a Brexit, everything might be just fine. Let’s Brelax!

Mike Pinkerton
COO | General Counsel

Mike Pinkerton leads the company’s business and legal operations. He earned his law degree at LSU, where he studied the civil law system, and spent a semester in Aix-en-Provence studying comparative law between the American and European law systems.