Business group urges David Cameron to call European Union referendum earlier

Lauren Fedor
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David Cameron has promised an EU referendum by the end of 2015 (Source: Getty)

The referendum on Britain’s membership in the European Union is at risk of becoming a “chance to whack the political elite” and should be held sooner rather than later, one Britain's biggest business groups will say today.

Institute of Directors (IoD) director general Simon Walker will use the IoD’s annual convention at Royal Albert Hall to warn Prime Minister David Cameron that the “third year of an election cycle is a difficult time for any administration”, and that if the in/out vote were held in 2017, there is a “real possibility” that it would be reduced to a “short-term judgement on the government”.

Cameron has promised a referendum by the end of 2017, following a period of renegotiation with Brussels. Over the weekend, he said that the renegotiation effort was "bloody hard work" but said that he he would not be rushed into naming a date for a referendum.

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Walker, meanwhile, will say today that there is “at least a 50-50 possibility” of Britain voting to leave the EU, adding that while business will have to accept the electorate’s decision - whether it is to “remain” or “leave” - firms will be less pleased if “carelessness and domestic discontent” lead to an “accidental Brexit”.

“I hope this government will not drag out the referendum process any longer than necessary,” Walker will say. “While our members believe some uncertainty is a price worth paying to resolve EU membership, delay puts a brake on decision-making, investment and the vigour of their businesses.”

“By 2017 this government will have implemented spending cuts that, while necessary, will not be popular,” he will add. “There is a real possibility that a 2017 referendum would be a short-term judgment on the government: a chance to whack the political elite.”

Cameron will address the Conservative party conference in Manchester tomorrow.

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