LONDON — As the world waits for Britain to decide its future in Thursday’s European Union referendum, some voters fear the result could cost them their livelihood or even force them to leave the country.
Sasha Kocho-Williams, a former New Yorker who runs a microbrewery with her husband, says a vote to "Leave" the EU in the so-called Brexit poll could force them out of business within months.
The mother-of-three told NBC News that Britain’s decades-long membership of the trading bloc was “completely essential” to the survival of their family business, which supplies American-inspired craft ales to local restaurants and hotels.
“We don’t know if there will suddenly be import tariffs on our materials or our ingredients, we have no idea how it will impact the export market, we just have no idea,” she said. “It’s very frightening to know that the entire basis of our business could be up in smoke in a few months.”
Her husband Ali said: “It’s up in the air. We have trade deals now that are a known quantity. We might get some in the future if we leave the EU but we might not, and they might not be on as-good terms.”
The company sources brewing ingredients and equipment from Europe. In fact, it owes its existence to the EU, having been launched with the help of an EU grant aimed at boosting development in their local area of Pembrokeshire, Wales �— more than 200 miles west of London.
“Our fermenting vessels … come from Italy because Italy specializes in high-grade stainless steel for the brewing industry,” Sasha said, adding that the brewery used mostly British malt but some specialty malts from Germany and Belgium and hops from Germany and Slovenia, as well as the U.S. “We sell all of our beer in bottles … all of our bottles come from Italy with the exception of our glass containers for selling draught beer, which come from Germany,” she said.
Britain’s membership of the EU means the brewery doesn’t have to pay additional import or export fees. Without easy access to imported ingredients, the business could fold. “It is how we set ourselves apart: we brew really hoppy, really special beers,” Sasha said.
“If those were to become unaffordable for us on our tiny capacity and really small budget … that would be it,” she shrugged. “That could be the end of it.”
Those backing the "Leave" campaign say Britain could simply negotiate new trade deals outside the EU, possible even on better terms. They argue that the money saved from Britain’s costly membership could be used to make it more globally competitive.
But Ali said the risk and uncertainty would be too great — and the company would likely not survive while new trade agreements were negotiated.
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“It would almost certainly have an immediate impact while things are up in the air, which we probably wouldn’t survive,” he said. “The big problem with small business is the uncertainty that leaving the EU would entail. It could destroy us.
“President Obama said it might take 10 years to negotiate new trade deals. We don’t have the time to wait.”
Sasha, a dual Swiss-U.S. national who married Ali in 2004, fears a "Brexit" could force her to leave Britain altogether. She is currently living in Britain on her Swiss passport, thanks to Switzerland’s bilateral agreements with the EU.
"I have the right to live and work here indefinitely because of an agreement with the EU … yeah, it’s a question mark."