Dyson doesn’t represent entrepreneurial consensus

by Jack Schickler | 11.06.2016

James Dyson – the British inventor best known for his innovative vacuum cleaners and hand-driers – intervened in favour of Brexit today. The Telegraph reports him as saying that EU immigration makes it hard to recruit the best non-EU engineers, or to keep bright graduates in the country. To recruit from outside the bloc, he says, “it takes four and a half months to go through the Home Office procedure”, which he describes as “crazy.” Outside the bloc, meanwhile, trade would not cease – indeed, in his view, the new-found ability to impose import tariffs on goods from the EU would make us “better off”.

Dyson does not represent the community of British innovators, the overwhelming majority of whom wish to stay in. But he is also wrong on the details.

The time and difficulty of hiring non-EU expert workers – and the decision to kick out foreign students once their degree is complete – is down to UK laws and bureaucracy, not EU rules. Import tariffs on EU goods would not provide a boost – trade barriers would mean economic damage, more than wiping out any Exchequer gain.

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And the consensus of other innovators is in the other direction. Entrepreneurs including lastminute.com founder Martha Lane Fox and many of the presenters of the TV show Dragons’ Den have called for continued EU membership. Tech startup lobbying group Coadec found 81% of its founders, investors and workers favoured staying in the EU, as did the digital companies in TechUK (70%). They cite the benefits for trade, investment, and access to a talented labour pool.

The research community, from whose findings many new innovations are created, gives an even clearer consensus. Over 100 University Vice Chancellors, the 13 Nobel prizewinners writing in yesterday’s Telegraph, and leading scientific journals all want to stay in. Nature, it appears, abhors the post-Brexit innovation vacuum.  

Edited by Hugo Dixon

Categories: Articles, Economy

5 Responses to “Dyson doesn’t represent entrepreneurial consensus”

    • common sense, maybe ?

      the thing with “doom and gloom”, is that it’ll be like a roller-coaster track, but with an overall downward bend

  • It is, perhaps, not entirely surprising that he takes the position he does on Brexit: I assume that he faces EU tariffs for importing into the UK (presumably his largest market) goods made in Malaysia and would hope that these would disappear.

    His complaints about bullying from German and French white goods manufacturers may be true, but I suspect exaggerated and there are ways of dealing with these things: he has superior products and is a good marketing man. Or maybe he isn’t up-to-speed with guerilla marketing tactics on social media that can take the wind out of incumbents when properly executed.

    His comments on plugs and language is just plain silly. Any costs associated with these must be a fraction of the benefits of manufacturing to a single pan-European standard (and won’t change with the UK’s status). He will still need to apply EU standards even if the UK leaves: if anything, being outside of the room he might find the competitors tilt the playing field even further against him.

    But it is his laxity on his statistics which is most surprising.

    In the Telegraph article Dyson is quoted as saying:

    “He produces another staggering fact. “Sixty per cent of engineering undergraduates at British universities are from outside the EU, and 90 per cent of people doing research in science and engineering at British universities are from outside the EU. And we chuck them out!” He gives a trodden-puppy yelp.”

    This looked so obviously wrong that I did some checking. The link below is to data published by HESA (the Higher Education Statistics Authority, the central source of statistics about publicly funded UK higher education) here:


    The proportions of non-UK and non-EU students studying Engineering & Technology subjects are 33.1% and 25.4% respectively. My understanding is that these numbers are higher than for any individual science subject.

    It is not clear whether these data are undergraduate only or all students, probably undergraduate. So, for undergraduates we can be sure that Dyson’s assertion is a wild exaggeration.

    The comment on researchers is a vague one – he might mean PhDs and post-docs and it isn’t clear where one would source these figures. I have checked with a very senior source at a Russell Group University who tells me: “Suffice to say I don’t recognise these numbers for my or any other UK university that I have visited – but I have only been to about 50 so perhaps Dyson knows better! Here, in Engineering I believe we have around 60% non-UK PGRs [i.e., EU and non-EU], and the proportion of PDRAs is likely similar. My understanding is that, as with other student groups, Engineering would tend to have the highest non-UK proportions.

    “I also don’t recognise the comment that we [the UK] “chuck them out” – we are still able to obtain work permits for good researchers, and I don’t believe that the most talented struggle to find positions at UK universities or companies under the current system.”

    Again, his statistics seem completely wrong.

    And his issues with non-EU researchers is, in any case, a UK government policy: nothing to do with the EU.

    Dyson is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts. And if he is so careless with basic statistics, which seem to form part of his core case against the EU, is he to be trusted on his other assertions?

    Maybe, just maybe, the journalist (who, as is fashionable when writing about science and engineering, is able to boast proudly that “…I don’t understand anything I’ve seen…”) got confused.

    If not, Dyson should be pulled-up on these stats.

  • Even if Mr Dyson is to some extent correct in what he says, he rather misses the point. He runs a business that makes things (I own some of his products myself).

    The problem is that manufacturing (and his is largely off-shored in any case) is but a small part of the British economy. Most of the economic activity in the UK nowadays is made up of various services (primarily banking, in value terms), and many of these are likely to relocate themselves within the EU after any Brexit, to take advantage of the so-called Passport. Mr Dyson, bless him appears to have a bad case of the “I’m all right, Jack” syndrome. His situation isn’t quite the same as the UK’s, and that difference is crucial.

  • This surely has nothing to do with him closing down the Malmesbury manufacturing facility and giving all that work and those jobs to a Malaysian facility?
    Surely someone closely linked with the Tory party couldn’t be planning to import foreign made goods?

    As to “getting international top talent” there are plenty of UK based engineers, I wonder why he has trouble recruiting (and retaining them beyond 2 years).

    Let’s also analyse the numbers on immigration:
    total net immigration: 333,000
    EU net immigrants: 77,000
    Rest of world net immigrants: 256,000
    Gov target: sub 100,000

    So even if those pesky EU immigrants were to drop to zero, the Gov target would still need to push the rest down by 156,000.

    Shouldn’t that be more difficult to bring someone in, Sir JD?

    I’d suggest immigration is a function of prosperity c.f. the rest of the world.

    I know an Australian Dyson recruited. That guy stayed about 2 years too, then left to go to Samsung.

    I know of a Chinese citizen called Yong Pang Dyson recruited to, didn’t he go to Bosch? (Google it)

    Recruit Brits, Pay more, complain less.