Business groups respond to EU referendum proposals

Business groups have been responding to Prime Minister David Cameron's proposals for a referendum on the UK's relationship with the European Union.

The Prime Minister said that British people must 'have their say' on Europe in an in/out referendum, which would be held in 2017.

Leading business groups have broadly welcomed the idea of a referendum, arguing that while a renegotiation of our relationship with the EU is needed, a total exit from the union would damage UK trade and competitiveness.

Commenting on the speech, director general of the Confederation of British Industry, 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 director general of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), John Longworth, agreed: "It is of critical importance to business and to Britain's national interest that we have access to the European market, but not at any cost," he said.

"On this basis, the Prime Minister's determination to negotiate a new settlement for Britain is the right course of action."

"However, the lengthy timescale for negotiation and referendum must be shortened, with the aim of securing a cross-party consensus and the outline of a deal during this Parliament," he added.

A recent BCC survey found that the majority of UK businesses want to stay within the EU but on the basis of a looser, revised relationship.
Alex Jackman, head of policy at the Forum of Private Business (FPB) said that an 'anti-EU' sentiment would grow unless the UK could renegotiate terms. In particular, he said that EU budgets should be more closely monitored and that savings could be made by reducing business policies.

"Pinch points for small businesses do differ. It is a genuine bugbear for those small businesses in communities that have nothing to do with exporting and wonder what right the EU has to dictate how long their employees should be paid for sick leave, or how they should sit at work," he said.

"But there is the other demographic for who the common market has helped enormously in growing their businesses overseas. Like it or not, most businesses export within Europe as their first step."