By Steve McCaskill
Microsoft says it wants the United Kingdom to vote to remain in the European Union In the upcoming referendum on 23 June, suggesting it would be less likely to invest in the event of a 'Brexit'.
Michael Van der Bel, the company's U.K. CEO, said it had been frequently asked by employees, customers and partners about the referendum and had "carefully considered its position."
"First and foremost, we want to emphasize that we firmly believe this is a decision for individual voters to make, based on the issues that are most important to them," he said. "We appreciate and respect that there are a range of reasons that motivate people on both sides of the debate, but as a business that is very committed to this country, our view is that the U.K. should remain in the EU."
Microsoft in the EU
Microsoft opened its first international office in the United Kingdom in 1982 and now has 5,000 employees working in support, marketing, gaming, communications, cyber-security and computer science research and recently opened a 'global center of excellence' for artificial intelligence. A new Azure data center is also set to open in the United Kingdom later this year.
Van der Bel said the U.K.'s membership in the European Union had been an important consideration when making these investments, especially with regards to talent.
"Historically, the U.K. being part of the EU has been one of several important criteria that make it one of the most attractive places in Europe for the range of investments we have made," he continued. "At key moments in our international growth we have specifically chosen to invest in our capabilities here in the U.K.
"For us, the U.K.'s membership of a wider EU was also a key reason why we chose to invest in our first overseas R&D laboratory in Cambridge. Why? Because we knew that the world-leading scientists we wanted to attract would want and need to work directly alongside other great researchers from across the region. This flexibility of doing business attracts the best people, and the investment that follows them, to the U.K.
"Whatever the outcome of the referendum, we respect the decisions made by U.K. voters. Our commitment to our staff and business here remains firm, but we also believe the U.K. remaining in the EU supports important criteria for continued and future investment by Microsoft and others."
Tech Against Brexit
U.K. technology firms appear to be overwhelmingly in favor of staying in the European Union when voters head to the polls on January 23. Indeed, one third have no plan in place to cope with a Brexit, which could cause compliance and recruitment issues.
Research from industry body techUK suggests 70 percent of its members want to stay in the EU, 15 percent want to leave and 15 percent don't know. The majority support the U.K.'s membership because it makes the country more attractive to international investment, makes the United Kingdom more globally competitive and gives it a more favorable trading relationship with other members.
"There is a strong message from the tech industry that Europe is good for business. Tech leaders are clear that the U.K. needs to be holding the pen on the laws that affect their businesses," said Julian David, techUK CEO.
"A vote to remain is a vote to ensure the U.K. voice is at the heart of policies that support the U.K.'s most innovative sector to continue to grow and create jobs. A vote [to] leave would mean that the U.K. tech industry would lose its voice on the issues that matter most."
A separate study from Tech London Advocates showed 87 percent of its members oppose a "Brexit."