Ever since the EU referendum result suggested that the UK would leave the EU -- by a very narrow majority -- I have feared for the UK games industry.
As a long term advocate, activist and actual fighter for the UK games industry, I have seen it experience many peaks and troughs. I fought personally for 10 years to get successive UK governments to introduce the video games tax relief in order to reverse the talent drain from the UK to Canada. I remember being told by government, civil servants and some games companies that the EU would never allow this as it went against State Aid rules. Indeed one of our trade associations was distinctly moot when it came to supporting this call back in the day.
I remember reading the legal advice line by line and taking what I thought was either lazy or plain wrong thinking to task. Myself, Ian Livingstone and TIGA made the case for years and we backed it with evidence, all the time seeing first-hand the effect that the Canadian initiatives were having on our talent and our industry. Friends of mine upped sticks and left for pastures new. It broke my heart.
Eventually, in February 2010 (now with the full support of UKIE, too), a Labour government accepted the arguments we had made and granted the Video Games Tax Relief measures we desperately needed to sustain and grow our amazing industry again. Sadly on the 20th of June that same year, George Osborne the Tory chancellor, threw that policy out and we took yet another step back. Did we give up? Did we hell.
All of us who had been there from the start pressed on and continued to build evidence and lobby for change. Two years later, we got the Video Games Tax Relief back. Every year since then we have seen amazing returns for the UK treasury and the UK industry has grown and prospered. Add to this the fact that the UK also became the tech start up capital of Europe with investor capital flowing in to take advantages of solid tax incentives such as EIS and SEIS, and things were really looking up.
We were a magnet for incredibly talented people from all over the world, people who enjoyed our open and liberal values. People who wanted to come to the UK to make their lives, build businesses and have their families. The UK had an enviable reputation and was a country with clear and robust IP and property laws. We were a country known for pragmatism and diplomacy.
Fast forward to 2019. We have a government who seem to be deaf to the views of people who both start and work in businesses. We have a government who want to throw up some half-arsed immigration policy with arbitrary salary thresholds which make no sense, other than to pander to those who feel immigration is a nation killer. A government which consistently ignores mounting evidence from its own civil service that clearly proves that leaving the EU will make the UK poorer on all levels. A government which refuses to countenance any change of course, despite the evidence that voters would like a chance to have their final say on whether they actually want the deal that they have actually negotiated. A government who quote the 'will of the people' as opposed to listening to the people.
"Decades of trading and legal agreements will be shredded instantly. We have absolutely no precedent for this event, let alone for a country as complex as the UK"
Add to that this government's point blank refusal to rule out a car crash 'No Deal Brexit' where we leave in an unruly fashion, without an agreed withdrawal agreement. And yet they tell us, the real wealth creators and contributors, to make our plans for a No Deal exit from the EU. How can we possibly make plans for something so outrageously callous as a No Deal?
Decades of trading and legal agreements will be shredded instantly. We have absolutely no precedent for this event, let alone for a country as advanced and complex as the UK. We really are in fantasy land, except its not full of vibrant coloured horses with single horns, rather we are looking at a dark dystopian UK. The direct opposite to what we had pre-June 23rd 2016. The government has some plan called Operation Yellowhammer which refers to 'unanticipated impacts', whatever those are. More tellingly, the people paid to identify all the risks don't even know what they are talking about. And they tell us to make our plans.
I have had frank conversations with civil servants, MPs and Government Ministers and it is clear. They are very, very scared. Fellow business leaders are also very, very scared. And yet the Government claim that that they cannot take 'No Deal off the table'. If I ran my businesses like this, I would be fired or worse still we would go out of business.
So what next? Well it is clear that our data and taxation laws will be dust in the event of a No Deal. That means we will need a subsidiary office inside the EU27 to ensure we are data and VAT/tax compliant and ensure our business does not fall over. Indeed many of these EU27 countries are making it easy for UK games companies to do this and an office in Ireland, Germany, Spain, Portugal or the Netherlands may be our destiny.
It kills me to say this, but under this government, the UK has not only gone backwards, but has wrecked our reputation for stability, pragmatism and diplomacy. This government shows no sign whatsoever of changing course, resolutely wedded to a skewed view of democracy whilst simultaneously refusing to countenance any real time democratic voice at all. Why on earth would you want to build a business here in the UK under this regime?
What a shame we are where we are. We had to so good and we've trashed it. As I write this, Honda and other inward investors clearly agree with me. Game over for the UK? Let's hope our government see sense in the next week or so and rule out a No Deal Brexit.
Andy Payne is the founder of AppyNation and JustFlight, as well as a games industry investor. He is also on the advisory board for anti-Brexit group Games4EU