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'Brexit destroyed my business': The small business owners who left the UK

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A bus passes an electronic billboard displaying a British government Brexit information awareness campaign advertisement in London, Britain
A bus passes an electronic billboard displaying a British government Brexit information awareness campaign advertisement in London, Britain -
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REUTERS/Toby Melville.
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Three years after the Brexit referendum, the effects of Britain’s decision to leave the EU have followed Julian Hensman to France.

Hensman is a British citizen who moved to France with his Polish wife shortly after the Brexit referendum in 2016. His UK business followed in 2018.

As the situation with Brexit continues to be uncertain, his business - a specialised financial firm - no longer provides him with an effective way of making a living.

“[Brexit] has destroyed my business completely,” Hensman said.

He is now looking for other employment in either France or the UK, but says he has not had much luck.

“In France, there’s no work at the moment - and in the UK, a lot of companies are moving out of the [country] in my sector,” he said. “It is because they don’t know what is going to happen with Brexit.”

The UK companies moving to the Netherlands

According to a survey by the British Chambers of Commerce, one out of five UK businesses plan to move part or all of their operations out of the country if there is a no-deal Brexit.

The Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency has said that 98 UK companies have already moved to the Netherlands because of Brexit.

More than 300 further companies have contacted the agency because they were curious about making a similar move.

Harry Ross, an artist who was formerly based in the UK, runs one of them.

He and his business partner Helen Scarlett O'Neill moved their creative production company from London to Rotterdam earlier this year. The main reason, he says, is the feeling of being a European.

Ross’ business, called ‘Surrealist Taxi,’ is a production company that creates artistic events, and had one full-time employee while they were based in the UK.

They will now rely on freelancers and artists based in the EU.

“We worked quite a lot in London in the run-up to Brexit, and we just felt that we are a European business,” Ross said.

“My partner is Scottish and I am European first and British second.”

Ross also said that he wanted to stay connected to other European countries after the UK leaves the EU.

“Building a business in another country is slightly different, but when you are a European business you have many other countries to put your business in.

“You can use that particular place where you established as a hub. And that is the thing that a hard Brexit really risks … things like trading across borders will be difficult for [small companies].”

Ross plans on staying in the Netherlands and eventually giving up his UK passport to become a Dutch citizen.

Huge momentum

Karen Clarke, a Dutch national who lived in the UK for thirty years, moved part of her business in May to the Netherlands because of Brexit.

She is a self-employed enterprise architect that runs a consultancy.

“The reason why I have moved the business is because it is really unclear what terms for me will apply [when it comes to] working for UK companies after the 31 October,” she said.

“So I have set up a parallel organisation to help me do my work.”

Her UK business still exists and she runs it from the Netherlands along with the Dutch branch that she is still in the process of creating.

“I am part way through the process [of creating my Dutch business], but one of the things that I do notice about the Netherlands is that everything has been really well thought through in terms of websites being set up,” she said.

“There are seminars being run on how to make your own business. Opportunities to make marketing concepts and partnerships websites.

“There is a huge momentum behind business in the Netherlands, which doesn’t exist for small companies in the UK.”

Clarke plans on staying in the Netherlands with her eight-year-old child while she waits for her husband, a UK citizen, to join them after he finds employment in the country.

“Making the decision was exceptionally difficult, not least because my husband was in a situation with his own employment where it was difficult for him to move,” she said.

“He is still there. And that, from a family perspective, is very difficult.”

On the other hand, Hensman and his wife have to decide where they will live if Brexit occurs.

He can stay in France and hope that he will retain the right to work after a Brexit, or attempt to return to the UK, a place that might not welcome his wife back.

Poland’s ambassador to London, Arkady Rzegocki, recently asked UK’s Polish population to consider relocating to Poland because of concerns with Britain’s EU settlement scheme.

“If I go back to the UK without a job, my wife will probably not be able to come with me," Hensman said.

“It is a catastrophe.”