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Tuesday, 31 March 2015

EU vote could cause business ‘uncertainty’, claims Cumbria commerce chief

David Cameron’s decision to call a referendum on EU membership could cause “damaging uncertainty” to business.

Rob Johnston photo
Rob Johnston

But the Prime Minister’s pledge to renegotiate UK membership is an “opportunity”.

That is the view of Rob Johnston, chief executive of Cumbria Chamber of Commerce.

Business leaders have been digesting Mr Cameron’s comments last Wednesday when he promised to renegotiate the terms of the UK’s EU membership then offer voters an in/out referendum.

This will take place after the next General Election, likely to be in 2015, if the Conservatives are in power.

Mr Johnston said: “It’s to be hoped that the Prime Minister is doing this for the right reasons, not because he’s under pressure from his party to be firm on Europe.

“The vast majority of foreign investment into the UK since the 1980s has been based on access to European markets, with investors seeing the UK as an attractive gateway to Europe.

“This is particularly so in the north of England where many traditional manufacturing businesses were based and where there’s been significant change.”

He added: “Whether to go for a referendum or not is a political decision, and we’re not commenting on that, but the uncertainty is damaging and we have to be aware of the consequences for business.

“Clearly, it is sensible to want to see what a restructured Europe looks like before making a decision.

“We don’t know yet what will be on the table and we should ensure we’re in a position to influence.

“There is opportunity in change and the UK Government should seek to exploit that for the benefit of the UK, staying engaged and seeking to influence the future shape of Europe.

“If we stand tough and take a strong line, then we should be able to influence Europe for the better.”

The employer’s organisation the CBI takes a similar stance. Its director general, John Cridland, said: “The EU single market is fundamental to Britain’s future economic success, but the closer union of the eurozone is not for us. The Prime Minister rightly recognises the benefits of retaining membership of what must be a reformed EU and the CBI will work closely with government to get the best deal for Britain.”


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