By Chris Fletcher, Director of Policy and Communications at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce
It would have been nigh on impossible over the last few weeks to have missed what could turn out to be a pivotal point in British politics and one that could have a significant impact at the next election and beyond. The rise of UKIP has long been in the making and the electorate, looking at the current hand of cards they’ve been dealt, seem to have been attracted by what they see and hear. Whether UKIP will make the same impression in 2015 at the election or whether this is another “protest” party that does well at certain points in the electoral cycle is yet to be decided. What is important though is the immediate impact this has had.
As a comment in a newspaper noted recently, as UKIP has no MPs, with the Conservative back benchers (and, indeed, Ministers) making all their right noises, does this matter? The old wounds have been opened again and the Prime Minister suddenly finds himself at the eye of the storm which is increasing daily.
What does this mean to business? A huge amount to be honest and some people may not like what they hear. A recent British Chambers of Commerce survey showed that 62% of businesses felt that withdrawal from Europe would have a negative impact on the country. So the majority would see benefit in staying, however 65% of respondents said that a transfer of some powers back to Westminster would have a positive impact. Maybe a case of having your cake and eating it but far from a call to abandon ship.
Sitting, as we do, under the EU umbrella does have its advantages, especially as regards trade. The EU is the largest trading bloc in the World. If we left the EU, how easy would it be to renegotiate all the trade agreements? Would we need to? With the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership in the making between the US and the EU it could be said that now may not be the best time to be having second thoughts about our relationship with Europe? A point made recently and obliquely by President Obama. The US is still the UK’s primary overseas market, what would be the knock-on effect of an EU pull out on this? It’s hard to say, isn’t it?
This is an issue we will come back to – it’s impossible to ignore - but what we cannot allow it to become is a football for the political class to kick around on one pitch, whilst the rest of us have to focus on the “real” stuff such as the economy, growth and employment.