Amid signs that the business community is facing up to the implications of a possible “Brexit”, the EEF manufacturers’ organisation says that an early vote is needed to end the “creeping uncertainty” that now exists for business and industry, reports The Times.
Other business leaders, however, have advised caution to allow Mr Cameron, who has said that the vote will arrive by the end of 2017, time to wrest important concessions from Brussels over Britain’s relationship with the EU.
Terry Scuoler, chief executive of the EEF, said: “Having put the recovery on a sound footing, we simply cannot afford to prevaricate on an issue of such importance.”
Research carried out for the EEF has shown that 85 per cent of British manufacturers would stay within the EU, with only 7 per cent wanting to quit. Among larger businesses, the vote to stay in was even higher.
Tomorrow, the nation will get the details of the prime minister’s legislative plans for the next five years when the Queen goes to the House of Lords. Bills of fundamental importance to business are expected in the Queen’s Speech, such as a likely move to limit immigration, legislation to devolve more powers to Scotland and Wales and the creation of a new northern powerhouse of thriving regional economies. Topping the list, though, is the referendum.
Katja Hall, deputy director-general of the CBI, which is committed to Britain staying in, said: “It’s vital that the EU referendum bill gives the government a reasonable amount of time to get momentum going behind its reform agenda.
“This will allow our allies to work with us to create an EU that does more of what it’s good at, like signing trade deals and completing the single market, and less of what it’s bad at, like interfering in lifestyle issues.”
Simon Walker, director-general of the Institute of Directors, said: “Our members want to stay in the EU, with only 7 per cent saying they would definitely vote to leave, but a majority support holding a referendum.
“IoD businesses have considerable links with the EU and value our membership, but they also agree with the prime minister that reform is absolutely vital. This must include working with struggling states in southern Europe to make their labour markets work better so that fewer people leave to find employment.” The IoD also wants Mr Cameron to protect Britain’s flexible labour market as part of the talks.
Sajid Javid, the business secretary, has signposted an enterprise bill, which will contain a pledge to cut red tape for business by at least £10 billion over the lifetime of this parliament and set up a small business conciliation service to resolve disputes, particularly over the late payment of invoices.
Business is less sure about an immigration bill and a net migration target. Many companies rely on a mobile, seasonal workforce, with others drawing from specialist international talent and student populations from overseas.
While new labour laws raising the voting threshold at which unions can call strikes may be widely welcomed, an energy bill penned by Amber Rudd, the new energy secretary, may prove more contentious. Ms Rudd wants to end subsidies for the operators of new onshore wind farms, while ringfencing a combined 7,000 turbines that are up and running or already planned. She also wants to allow shale gas to be extracted from national parks.