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Wednesday, 17 February 2016

EU Referendum: Round the table with the 'In' crowd

The third in a series of blogs on the EU Referendum - By Alex Davies, Research Analyst at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce.
With the news today that British officials have entered the final phase of negotiations to reform the UK’s relationship with EU, an early referendum date is looking more and more likely. June 23rd is the date hot on everybody’s lips, and will become an even safer bet if Mr Cameron is successful in sealing the deal at this weekend’s European Summit in Brussels.  It seems apt then, that this week saw the Chamber’s engagement with this issue become more active, as we hosted the Britain Stronger in Europe campaign (BSIE) for a round-table discussion with our members. Headed by former CEO of Marks and Spencer’s, Lord Stuart Rose, BSIE is currently pushing to become the officially recognised “In” campaign, and this week launched their campaign across the North of England.

BSIE outlines three key areas in which they feel we benefit from being an EU member: the economy, security and influence. They make their view very clear that the best outcome is for the UK to remain a member of a reformed EU. The worthiness and intentions of the proposed reforms was the first point of slight contention in an otherwise uncharacteristically civilised discussion, given the topic. The main concerns seemed to be around the general public’s views rather than that of business, and about how the campaign plans to engage with those for whom the sticking points in the debate may seem to have little relevance in day-to-day life.

Overall, there was an obvious pro-Europe air in the room. This was perhaps to be expected, as a recent poll of members by British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) showed that 60% of senior business people surveyed would vote to remain. 34% said they would reconsider based on the Prime Minister's reform negotiations, but it was the nature of the discussion after turning to the tactics of the “leave” side that was perhaps most indicative of the failures within the wider debate.

BSIE have the advantage of supporting the status quo, and are opposing a number of squabbling “leave” campaigns that share no unified voice. All the “remain” campaigns have to do is show that the prospect of leaving the EU is a risk, that it entails uncertainty, which at this point is no effort at all. Many options would be available to us should we leave, so people inevitably want to leave for a multitude of different reasons and wish to achieve a multitude of different things if we do so. Bundling this wide array of potential economic and political pathways under the “NO” on the ballot paper could be viewed as counterproductive if we are really striving to have a serious and fair discussion. There cannot be a unified voice within the “leave” campaigns or the “leave” side of the public simply because one does not exist. We will hopefully soon know exactly what a vote to remain is a vote for, this won’t happen for their opposition (If we leave we would have a pro-EU Prime Minister and government involved in the negotiating – a bizarre thought), so the temperament of the business community is unsurprising and entirely reasonable. It is tough to imagine that 34% of them will see anything significant enough to be swayed. This does mean however, that as and when we can arrange one, a similar event with a “leave” campaign should be quite exciting, and seeing both sides in the same room at this year’s BCC conference should not be missed.

Are you interested in us doing more events similar to this? Do you plan to engage your workforce concerning the referendum? Still unable to make up your mind? Get in touch!

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