Shadow chancellor Ed Balls has warned that a British exit from the EU poses the biggest risk to the UK in the last decade, adding that holding a referendum earlier than planned, in 2016, would also be bad for businesses.
Speaking to business leaders at the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) annual conference, Balls said walking away from Europe would be a disaster for Britain, but so would an early referendum because there would be no time to draw up plans for reforms.
He told delegates: “While I agree with your director general on the need for reform and about the damage the current uncertainty is doing to investment, I fear every comment by senior cabinet ministers saying they would be happy or relaxed to see us walk out.
"Every hint that a referendum could happen as early as next year, before any meaningful reform agenda could be achieved, only adds to the uncertainty and risk for British businesses. I fear that Britain walking out of the EU is the biggest risk to our economy in the next decade.”
His comments come as BCC director general John Longworth called for a referendum to take place within 12 months of the General Election to allay risks to business caused by uncertainty over Britain’s future in the European Union.
As the political parties vie for the hearts and minds of business ahead of May's General Election, Balls reiterated his remarks about senior Conservative politicians damaging Britain's credibility in Europe. Speaking to City A.M., he called the open speculation on leaving Europe among cabinet minsters "playing fast and loose", adding that it is creating a high risk for business.
The Labour Party is seeking to win round business leaders after being accused of anti-business sentiment, with Labour's recent announcement that it plans to increase paternity leave coming in for heavy criticism from small firms.