Saturday

19th Jan 2019

UK leaders trade blows after call for early EU referendum

  • Cameron: 'Let's get stuck in there. Let's hold a negotiation' (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

UK political leaders traded blows about the merits of holding an EU referendum after one of the country’s business leaders called for it to take place as early as 2016.

Politicians touted their ideas to business leaders at the annual conference of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) on Tuesday (10 February) ahead of May’s general elections.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

BCC chairman John Longworth told delegates that a referendum on EU membership should be held within 12 months of the election ”in order to avoid two years of uncertainty” - a surprise bonus for David Cameron, who has promised to renegotiate the UK’s membership terms followed by an ‘in/out’ referendum in 2017 if his Conservative party wins May’s elections.

In his speech,Cameron said Longworth’s remarks demonstrated that businesses supports his stance on renegotiating the UK’s EU membership.

"They are saying it is quite right to have a strategy that gives Britain the best chance of staying in a reformed European Union that works in our interest and that is what my approach is," Cameron said.

"Let's get stuck in there. Let's hold a negotiation. Let's deal with those things that are holding Britain back, and then let's have this put to the British public in an in/out referendum".

Neither Labour or the Liberal Democrats support a referendum ahead of the elections, which promise to be the closest and most fragmented in living memory.

Polls put Labour and the Conservatives almost neck-and-neck on between 30-33 percent, with the anti-EU UK Independence party in third place on around 17 percent.

The BCC represents nearly 100,000 firms which employ more than 5 million people in Britain. Longworth has publicly stated that he supports the UK’s continued membership of the EU.

However, unlike Cameron, who wants to repatriate powers from Brussels back to the UK parliament, Longworth told delegates that “more than any repatriation of powers the next government must set out what it will do to protect the United Kingdom against the prospect of being in a club where all the decisions are made by, and for, the eurozone.”

For his part, Labour’s finance spokesman Ed Balls told the conference that Britain “walking out of the EU is the biggest risk to our economy in the next decade.”

Labour has come under attack from a number of business leaders in recent weeks for being anti-enterprise.

Bu it argues that its support for the UK’s continued EU status - which most businesses support - and opposition to a "destabilising" referendum, demonstrates its business-friendly credentials.

“Every comment by senior Cabinet ministers saying they would be happy or relaxed to see us walk out, and every hint that a referendum could happen as early as next year … only adds to the uncertainty and risk for British businesses," Balls told delegates.

Brexit would be 'very costly gamble'

Increased trade and regulatory costs would cost the UK economy up to 9.5 percent of its output if the UK left the European Union, according to new research by the London School of Economics.

UK's EU referendum could be held earlier

Cameron has said he will not rule out an earlier-than-planned referendum on EU membership should he remain in office after the May general election.

Opinion

Young Brits are pro-EU, but will they vote?

Britain’s future relationship with Europe may well depend on the views of its Millennials - Britons born after 1980. But this younger, generally pro-EU generation, has a history of not voting.

News in Brief

  1. EU trade commissioner asks for green light for US talks
  2. Slovakia's commissioner takes unpaid leave to run for presidency
  3. Minority elects Lofven as prime minister of Sweden
  4. Putin opposes EU prospects of Serbia and Kosovo
  5. Tsipras launches campaign to ratify Macedonia deal
  6. US-EU meeting in doubt after Trump cancels plane
  7. Germany and China to sign pact on finance cooperation
  8. Labour divided on second Brexit vote plan

Opinion

EU parliament vote strengthens whistleblower protection

We must not undervalue what a massive step the European Parliament vote represents. The hard work has paid off. We can take a moment to celebrate, but the hard work begins again for finalising strong protection for European whistleblowers.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General

Latest News

  1. Aachen treaty and Brexit endgame This WEEK
  2. Germany led way on EU rights protection
  3. How to troll the European Parliament elections
  4. MEPs in Strasbourg: everywhere but the plenary
  5. Brexit delay 'reasonable', as May tries cross-party talks
  6. MEPs allow Draghi's membership of secretive bank group
  7. EU parliament backs Morocco deal despite row
  8. Barnier open to 'future relations' talks if UK red lines shift

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us