BUSINESS leaders yesterday broadly welcomed David Cameron’s plans to renegotiate a new deal with the European Union.
In a letter to The Times, 48 industry and City leaders said the Prime Minister’s promises of a negotiation followed by an “in-out” referendum within five years was “good for business and good for jobs in Britain”.
The signatories included London Stock Exchange chief executive Xavier Rolet, Standard Chartered chairman Sir John Peace and Diageo chief executive Paul Walsh.
Many major UK industry bodies also said they would be happy to see Britain’s current EU deal renegotiated with a new focus on free trade.
“The vast majority of businesses across the UK want to stay in the single market, but on the basis of a revised relationship with Europe that promotes trade and competitiveness,” said John Longworth of the British Chambers of Commerce. “Announcing plans for a referendum on British membership puts the onus on the rest of Europe to take the Prime Minister seriously, as they will now see that he is prepared to walk away from the table.”
The Institute of Directors called the speech “realistic and pragmatic” and welcomed any move to curtail “large amounts of costly regulation being introduced through unaccountable processes”.
But there were concerns over the timescale of the announcement, with the vote not likely to take place until late 2017. “This is a political decision, not an economic decision,” said Sir Martin Sorrell, WPP chief executive, at the World Economic Forum in Davos. “You just added another reason why people are going to postpone investment decisions.”
HIGHLIGHTS OF CAMERON’S EU SPEECH
David Cameron has committed to holding an in/out referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union by the end of 2017 – if the Conservatives win the next general election.
Before this he will seek to negotiate a new deal with Europe – but the referendum will be on membership, not whether to accept this revised package.
The referendum could be required as part of any Conservative coalition deal after the 2015 general election.
Cameron will personally campaign for Britain to stay in the EU but fears a stronger Eurozone could curtail free trade.
The Prime Minister wants “completing the single market to be our driving mission”.
Cameron used the speech to portray himself as “heretic”, who wants the EU to be more flexible rather than act with “the cumbersome rigidity of a bloc”.
Some powers should return from Brussels to national parliaments. Cameron did not provide details but hinted the working time directive is his top target.
Cameron attacked those who say a referendum creates uncertainty for businesses. He said the other option is to let anti-EU anger build up until the public vote for complete withdrawal from the organisation.
Holding a referendum immediately would be inappropriate because it is not clear what form the EU will take following the Eurozone crisis.
Cameron rejects complete withdrawal from the EU in favour of the model practised by Norway and Switzerland because “they are very different from us”.
The Prime Minister believes the Eurozone crisis will force the EU to pass a new treaty, providing the opportunity for Britain to renegotiate its relationship.