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Operators: Britain must remain in European Union

James Pearce
June 13, 2016

Revenues could fall, prices could rise and jobs could be lost if Britons vote “yes” to Brexit

UK mobile operators have overwhelmingly backed the campaign to remain in the EU, claiming a ‘Brexit’ could damage the UK and put jobs at risk.

Brits will take part in a landmark vote on June 23 on whether or not to stay within the European Union, but EE, O2, Three and Vodafone all backed the ‘Remain’ campaign, led by Prime Minister David Cameron (pictured), to stay in Europe.

Vodafone CEO Vittorio Colao
Vodafone CEO Vittorio Colao

Speaking at a recent financial results roundtable, Vodafone Group CEO Vittorio Colao said staying in the EU was beneficial for Vodafone, its customers and shareholders.

Colao said: “Our position on Brexit has not changed. We clearly see an advantage of remaining in the EU for Vodafone, our customers and shareholders. It would be completely counter-intuitive on one hand to talk about the digital single market about privacy and security and cyber threats, and then going in the opposite direction, which is fragmentation and segmentation.”

Better for customers
He continued: “If the result is to stay in, it is better for our customers. Are we worried? We can and already operate in many different jurisdictions. We can live with it [Brexit] but it would definitely be a more difficult life.”

BT chief executive Gavin Patterson
BT chief executive Gavin Patterson

His view was echoed by (EE parent) BT Group chief executive Gavin Patterson, who believes being in a single digital market across the EU greatly benefitted the telecoms giant.

He claims around a fifth of BT’s revenues are made from outside of the UK, with the majority of that coming from across Europe.

It also benefits EE, he claimed, saying that being in the EU had allowed the mobile operator to offer customers lower charges, which include exclusive roaming packages and data deals which are 90 per cent lower for Brits travelling within Europe.

Earning fears  
“We favour staying in a reformed European Union. We earn about a fifth of our revenues outside the UK, much of that in Europe, where we gain huge benefits from open access to the EU single market comprising 500 million people.”

A number of EU policies have had a major impact on the UK, including the recent introduction of lower roaming caps, spectrum clearance and rules governing handset compatibility. Brussels also recently blocked Three-owner CK Hutchison £10.25 billion bid to buy O2 from Telefonica, citing competition fears a major contributor to its decision.

Prime Minister David Cameron
Prime Minister David Cameron

EU investment crucial
Despite the EU policies having a major effect, O2 is backing the Remain campaign nonetheless.

A spokesperson from O2 said: “Remaining in the EU is the right thing to do from a business perspective so that Telefónica UK, as well as the overall mobile industry, can continue to support European wide agreements such as spectrum clearance and handset compatibility. Size and scale are key in digital businesses and, as incumbent operators face up to competition, we need successful European champions to reinvest back into UK business.”

CEO of Three’s parent company CK Hutchison, Li Ka-Shing, has previously warned a Brexit would “harm investment”, but Three UK declined to comment.

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