Warning of Brexit director brain drain

BDO is warning of a potential brain drain in the UK economy if the government does not make a concerted effort to retain and attract European business leaders post-Brexit, after its research found more than 40,000 board-level directors of UK businesses are citizens of EU27 countries

The firm says these 41,510 directors make up over 6% of the total of more than 628,000 directors identifiable by nationality. While much of the focus has been on the possible loss of skills at the FTSE 100 level, BDO argues that the data suggests that businesses of all sizes may be affected should EU citizens relocate following Brexit.

In the UK's mid-sized businesses (those with an annual turnover between £10m and £300m), citizens of EU27 countries make up 7% of all directors. A total of 10,400 Europeans run these mid-sized companies.

BDO says the UK has been a big winner in the global war for talent over recent years, attracting numerous outstanding business leaders who have contributed to economic growth, tax receipts and job creation.

If a significant number of these overseas directors made the decision to leave the UK, the loss of human capital to UK businesses could impact growth at a time when the economy is already struggling. EU directors are likely to be internationally mobile, and more of them may in future choose to start or grow their businesses in competing EU countries.

Every country in the EU27 is represented in the list of EU directors of UK businesses, ranging from first-placed Ireland with 9,490 directors, to last-placed Slovenia with 40 directors.

BDO says its analysis shows the proportion of EU-national directors is higher among larger businesses (turnover between £300m and £1bn), where 1,250 of 15,000 company directors are from EU countries (8%). France is at number one, with 270 directors.

Ireland punches significantly above its weight in providing company directors to EU businesses. While it is only the 19th-largest EU27 country by population, it provides more directors than any other EU country.

Germany underperforms its population size in producing UK business leaders – while it is the largest EU27 country by population, it is only third in number of UK company directors.

Stuart Lisle, senior tax partner at BDO, said: ‘EU directors make an enormous contribution to the UK economy every year. We need to make sure that those individuals are still encouraged to set up and lead businesses in the UK in the future. That may mean actively courting them, just as many other EU states are.

‘The fact that so many businesses rely on EU leaders shows the risks to UK economic growth, tax receipts and employment if they are disincentivised from making investments here.’

Pat Sweet

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