Wednesday 2 September 2015 8:19 pm

EU referendum: Anti-Europeans do UK voters a disservice by obsessing about process not policy

With the Rugby World Cup due to kick off in just a couple of weeks, fans are already desperate to see their teams and the world’s best players competing on the pitch. 
What they do not want is for the beginning of the tournament to be dominated by debate over the refereeing and rules of the contest.
Yet this is precisely what British voters have been offered on the EU referendum. 
Instead of focusing on the crucial issues at stake, the narrative in recent days has fixated on the rules of the contest – particularly the referendum question and the controversy over “purdah”
Politicians owe it to the voters, and to British business, to talk about policy more than process.
Business for New Europe has never taken a view on the wording of the question, and we are glad the Electoral Commission has made its considered view known. 
We’re glad, too, that the government has agreed to it and laid the issue to bed. 
Yes or no, in or out, leave or remain – we know the British people understand the stakes, whatever the wording. And the argument that Britain is richer, safer and stronger in Europe will be vital and compelling come what may.
“Purdah” refers to the regulations on the conduct of the government during election and referendum campaigns. 
This will of course be an important concern. But the intensity with which anti-Europeans have fixated on it would suggest they care more about the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 than the Europe issue itself. 
It is vital that the government oversees the referendum in an impartial manner, so that all can have confidence in the final result. 
Little is more valuable for business than certainty about the future, and this vote will certainly muddy the waters. 
Business needs the result, whatever it is, to be accepted and respected. That way, businesspeople can go back to growing their companies without the uncertainty over our EU membership.
But the Conservative government is entitled to make its view known – after all, it did win an election just four months ago. And we forget that, whatever the timetable of the vote, Brussels will carry on regardless. 
The EU is working on measures – a capital markets union, the digital single market, the TTIP free trade deal with the US – which could be invaluable to UK plc. 
British business wants our ministers and officials to attend EU meetings and fight hard for our interests. Regulations that would prevent this happening during the referendum period could only be bad for Britain.
If certain reports are to be believed, the most important vote in recent British history could take place in just seven months’ time. 
Given the massive flaws and uncertainties involved in all alternatives to EU membership, a cynic might think the anti-Europeans are obsessing about process to avoid answering difficult questions. 
All parties and campaigns owe it to the public to spell out their visions for what Britain would look like, in or out of Europe. 
The time has come to stop arguing and get out onto the pitch.

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