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Talking Business: Why etailers should vote to remain in the EU

A vote to leave the European Union would be a disaster for UK ecommerce and fashion brands, writes Philip Rooke, chief executive of on-demand clothing etailer Spreadshirt.

In 1995, Austria, Finland and Sweden joined the European Union. Norway thought about it, but rejected the idea in a referendum. And that same year in London, I started a career in internet companies. More than 20 years later, I live in Berlin and run a company that sells in 18 countries – and I fervently hope the UK votes to remain in the EU.

Leaving the union would be a disaster for UK ecommerce and fashion brands, limiting their opportunities for success. Many of my colleagues in Germany and across Spreadshirt in the EU feel the same. The “outers” promise a simpler future away from crazy EU stories and red tape: what they will deliver is a smaller future and no less bureaucracy.

This is not to say the EU is perfect – trust me, the Germans also have a big list of complaints and immigration is definitely an issue, but this is about change and reform. It seems many Germans see the British as an ally in this, feeling they are on a similar page.

There are three main arguments for remaining in the EU:


There is a myth that the EU creates more red tape for businesses, but sales are much easier from inside the eurozone, where we share a currency and have free movement across national borders. The pain starts at an EU border. We, and our customers, feel the pain when we have to navigate Norway’s customs procedures, or negotiate Swiss taxes.


The British appreciate the trading opportunities the EU offers, and most outers still want to maintain trading links, but the size of the market doesn’t get nearly enough recognition. The EU is now Britain’s largest trading partner, with more than 51% of British exports of goods currently destined for its European partners. And yet, outers would rather be in a market of 57 million internet users (UK) than the 399 million the EU can offer. Being in the EU means ecommerce companies can compete on a global scale with the likes of China (644 million) and the US (277 million). At Spreadshirt, we also went through this change in perception, from being a German company to being an international one. It has meant we have able to use our scale to break into the US market and further afield.


The British love the idea of movement of money and goods, but we see a huge competitive advantage in being able to recruit the best person for the job from across the EU. We have people from 15 nationalities at our Leipzig headquarters, and without them we would not have the diversity that creates strong ideas and systems.

Since 1995, the UK has seen an explosion in online retailing. The British took to ecommerce like ducks to water, and companies have grown as a result. A whole new tech industry has developed since I started in business. I’d hate to see the internet economy stall as a result of an out vote. Much better to embrace the opportunities in the larger, European market. The Germans would love us to stay!


Readers' comments (1)

  • Philip's analysis is especially authoritative with his background in Germany. However there are too many contradictions in his arguments.

    'This is about change and reform': how can it be? The larger Europe becomes the less likely it will be able to change. And already it has shown itself completely opposed to change.

    'Sales are much easier inside the eurozone where we share a currency': but this hasn't held back UK ecom businesses! As he says: 'the British took to ecom like ducks to water'.

    'Being in the EU means ecom companies can compete on a global scale with China and the US': why should this be the case? Are American companies restricted from selling in Europe? Amazon et al might say no!

    He wishes 'to recruit the best person for the job from across the EU': but why not want to recruit the best from across the world? Is a Hungarian, say, better qualified than a Chinese or American?

    Of course the Germans (and Americans, and anyone else with their own self-interest at heart) wish us to remain; because it's clearly to their advantage. But is it to ours?

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