Should we stay or go? – the view of business to the EU debate

Jonathan Walker, North East Chamber of Commerce head of policy and campaigns.
Jonathan Walker, North East Chamber of Commerce head of policy and campaigns.

Business organisations in the region have given their views on the in/out vote on the EU.

STAY

Andrew Saunders, chairman of Business for Britain North East.

Andrew Saunders, chairman of Business for Britain North East.

A survey by the North East Chamber of Commerce (NECC) has found that the majority of the region’s businesses wish to remain in the EU.

Of those surveyed, 63 per cent said they plan on voting to remain in the EU, a slight increase compared to NECC’s previous survey in September.

The percentage of those planning to vote to leave the EU is 29.3 per cent, with 7.6 per cent still to make a decision.

The poll took place last week, prior to the Prime Minister’s announcement of a reform deal, however, 53.6 per cent of respondents said their voting decision was unlikely to change regardless of reforms.

NECC head of policy and campaigns, Jonathan Walker, said: “These results show a continued desire among North East businesses to remain within the EU. While there is not a uniform business view, many of our members see significant risks from a possible exit.

“Our priority this year is to further strengthen the region’s profile domestically by making North East England a recognised player on the global stage and the EU referendum throws this issue into sharper focus.

“We recognise the huge benefits continued membership brings to the region, but also the frustrations many businesses feel when dealing with European regulations. Nevertheless, as a business membership organisation, we have a duty to listen to our members and make the case for both membership and reform of the EU.”

Of those surveyed, 44 per cent said they were exporters to countries within the European Union.

Responding to the reform package, Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI Director-General, said: “UK businesses want to see changes to the EU that will put Europe on the path to a more competitive and prosperous future – the Prime Minister’s reform package looks to be a major step forward.

“Being part of the Single Market guarantees businesses tariff-free access to 500 million consumers in Europe and is a cornerstone of the UK’s economic success.

“These reforms protect the UK’s place and influence inside this important market and a renewed focus on EU competitiveness will help British firms succeed in creating jobs and economic growth at home in the years ahead.

“Firms will particularly welcome a commitment to reduce unnecessary regulation.

“Most CBI members – though not all – have told us that being in a reformed EU is better for jobs, growth and prosperity.

“With a final deal now in place, we will consult our members to ask for their views once again.”

GO

Responding to the EU-UK deal, Andy Saunders, chairman of Business for Britain North East, said: “This renegotiation of our relationship with the EU is fruitless for the North East.

“The Prime Minister is only tinkering at the edges of the issue, and these small reforms are not even legally binding.

“Every year, the North East sends £496million to the EU – a quarter of the school’s budget for the region in 2015/16.

“To build a prosperous North East, we need control of our budgets, trade negotiations, autonomous economic governance and a cut to the burden of EU regulation.

“The only way to achieve this is to vote leave. This is the safer choice.”

Reflecting on the fact that David Cameron was seeking ‘fundamental, far-reaching change’, he added: “The Prime Minister promised fundamental reform, but he’s got measly concessions.

“With no treaty changes, this is at best an unsigned contract. History tells us the EU is incapable of reforming itself and nothing changes.

“The treaties are 99 per cent the same as before the renegotiation. These watery reforms do nothing to address the business and social needs of the North East. The safer option is to take back control of our economy, our ability to negotiate trade deals.”