Brexit ‘could boost businesses in Tower Hamlets if they manage to retain workers’

Members of the Brexit Commission, which was set up in August to examine the impact leaving the EU wo

Members of the Brexit Commission, which was set up in August to examine the impact leaving the EU would have on Tower Hamlets. Picture: LBTH - Credit: Archant

Small and medium-sized businesses in Tower Hamlets have expressed cautious optimism about leaving the European Union.

Speaking in front of the council’s Brexit Commission, which was set up to look at the potential impacts of leaving the EU on the borough, business representatives said Brexit could be a good opportunity to promote growth locally and further afield.

Speakers included Sheikh Aliur Rahman, CEO of the London Tea Exchange in Brick Lane, Rupert Wheeler from architecture firm, Mackenzie Wheeler, Gabriela Cala-Lesina from the Whitechapel Gallery and Sarah Nelson from the Aldgate Business Partnership.

“From our point of view, British brands have a huge attraction across the world,” said Mr Rahman, whose business brings in specialist tea from 43 countries.

“We’re quite optimistic. A lot of people are all doom and gloom, but there’s an opportunity for UK businesses to get out into the world and do well – but we need the support.

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“The blockage to business is not that we can’t do it, it’s that we don’t know what will happen.”

Mr Rahman said it was uncertainty surrounding Brexit, not Brexit itself, which was the biggest hindrance to small businesses. He’s set up a base in Stockholm, so if high tariffs are brought in on products, he’s prepared.

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“We thought the best thing we can do is position ourselves so when we do have the information, we can adjust,” he said.

“We have got a massive expansion programme planned, but we have huge challenges.”

Other leaders were less optimistic. Rupert Wheeler, who runs an architecture firm in Shoreditch, said he only employs the best architects – and nearly two thirds of them happen to be EU nationals.

“We always select the best candidates, regardless of their origin,” he said.

“The result of this strategy is 64 per cent of our team are EU nationals.

“We thrive as part of an international community and we’ve benefited from freedom of movement. Any policy that would reduce the pool of labour would reduce the quality of our team and reduce the effectiveness of our business.”

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