Opinion

The time to speak out on the EU is now – don't waste the chance

5 min read

28 September 2015

Businesses must make their voice heard as EU referendum looms, or risk a situation that is not conducive to future company growth.

We’ve had two surveys this week, one encompassing the UK and the other Scotland – which have laid bare the current thinking of businesses towards the EU.

On the whole it appears that, to no great surprise, businesses would prefer the UK to stay in the EU when a referendum is held on the subject either next year or in 2017.

What is perhaps surprising is that businesses have a few caveats and they mainly revolve around the renegotiation package prime minister David Cameron is trying to win from the EU.

There are concerns from British businesses on issues such as red tape and immigration.
In reality, we are told, it is these reforms which we will be voting on in a few months’ time.

Whatever the PM can wrestle from the EU could sway some business owners in staying a staunch supporter of our presence in the EU or decamping to the other side.

There is a lot of indecision out there and it is good that these surveys are being released to remind the prime minister that there are concerns amongst British businesses about whether being in the EU is good for UK plc or not.

Often some of these concerns are hijacked by parties such as UKIP with its very black and white views on the EU.

Business people can’t let either UKIP, or even Cameron, hog the airwaves and the issues here.

Leaders need to stand up and speak to either national or local audiences about what staying in the EU with the current status quo would mean for peoples jobs and local economies and their investment decisions. Likewise, for other eventualities such as staying in with certain EU powers eradicated or reduced or leaving altogether.

It’s no good to say that it is too early to say one way or another what the potential impact could be. We only have to see the chaotic ending to the Scottish referendum to see how quickly politicians and indeed businesses began to panic when there was the strong possibility that independence might be won.

That level of confusion can’t be allowed to happen again.

Read more about the referendum:

The prime minister and the public must be made aware of how senior business leaders think about this issue and what they think the consequences might be.

The need for this to happen is even stronger now the role of the EU is being dominated by the migration question.

Clearly it is a vital issue and is revealing some of the huge tensions that still exist between certain members of the new Europe. It and the Greek crisis has also revealed the huge imbalance in power between Germany and other EU nations.

But the essence of the EU remains a business and economic one. The inherent idea that European nations tied together in a single economic direction and closeness would never go to war with each other again.

We need to hear more about whether our business leaders feel this is something worth keeping. They must join more strongly into the debate and not wait on the sidelines as many did during the Scottish vote.

So get out there – talk to your management team and staff, what are their thoughts, how should you best represent those to the outside world? Start a debate amongst your business network and suppliers. Talk to the media and the public.

Talk to your MPs as well, go to debates and meetings around this subject and let decision makers know what your concerns are and what changes you want to see in the EU. If you’re not happy with the status quo then this is your chance to say so. So speak up.

The vote is looming and British business can’t be caught cold – it must be strong and ready to defend its views and have a strategy in place to cope with any eventualities.