Vince Cable recently stood before a gathering of economists and said: “The prospect of a referendum and possible exit from the EU is deeply unsettling for businesses trading in the European single market, from the car industry to financial services.”
His wish came true last Friday when Labour and the Liberal Democrats joined forces to kill off the In/Out Referendum Bill in the House of Lords. But a future referendum is not threatened by peers in the House of Lords alone. Opponents of a fair referendum rally around big business and frequently argue that interests of multinational corporations should overrule national interest.
As supporters of free enterprise, we might be compelled to consider what Cable says, but it must be taken with a pinch of salt!
While big business sings praise for the EU project, it is not the case that all business is fond of the EU. A poll conducted in May and June last year by the British Chamber of Commerce found a 77% majority favoured holding a referendum on our membership of the EU. It was the most significant poll of British businesses to date, with 4,000 participants – double the number usually polled – and a mixture of all-sized firms in Britain, including the small and medium-sized businesses which usually get ignored. This poll showed widespread support for a referendum on our EU status. As Director General of the BCC John Longworth says “These results show that British businesses remain determined to see a recalibrated relationship between the UK and the rest of the European Union, with more powers exercised from Westminster rather than Brussels.”
One could just as easily claim that the coming General Election is causing business uncertainty as well, because Ed Balls could emerge as the next Chancellor and impose higher taxes again. Should Democracy be swept away as well to ensure certain sectors of business feel comfortable? That argument holds no water.
Scaremongering is being used as a tactic to divert the argument away from the core principle the Eurosceptic position rests on. Democracy must be asserted on the question of our EU status. Get Britain Out believes the Great British Public must have their own say in an In/Out referendum as soon as possible. The idea that such an important question should be delayed at the behest of business leaders is an absurdity.
Another factor to consider (which has probably conveniently escaped Vince Cable’s attention) is that the UK is currently among the fastest growing of Western economies. Most EU Member States must envy our success at bouncing back with admirable level of economic growth. The rest of the EU? It’s still submerged in misery wherever you look. The downturn in France demonstrates that pursuing high-tax, high spending policies is what discourages business leaders and high income earners – more so than the possibility of exit from the EU. Yet even though they are submerged in recession, the French Prime Minister Hollande still refuses to consider any Treaty changes over Europe, much to Cameron’s frustration.
Car manufacturing in Britain is booming, having hit a six-year high in 2013 and has helped drive some of our recovery. Meanwhile, trade with the EU is decreasing as a share of our trade abroad, and trade with the rising powers is increasing. Car exports to the EU have declined by 20% since 2007. Car registration is also on the up in the UK, and falling in the EU. This apparent ‘uncertainty’ hasn’t slowed down our car industry, nor does it seem to have endangered our recovery. Despite the protests, leaving the EU could open a whole new world of opportunity and enterprise. Those who support free enterprise should see beyond the over-regulated, anti-competitive and declining EU, and pursue free trade with the world rather in a regional trade-bloc that is holding us back.
One important question to think about: ‘How many of these ‘Big Business’ companies and corporations are in fact wholly British-owned’. So are they really serving the needs of the Great British Public?
Alan Murad is the Acting Campaign Manager for Get Britain Out