A Subject That's Too Important to Be Left to So-Called Experts; the Standard of Debate about Our Membership of the European Union Leaves Much to Be Desired - Even from the Business Community, Argues PETER TROY

The Journal (Newcastle, England), February 16, 2015 | Go to article overview

A Subject That's Too Important to Be Left to So-Called Experts; the Standard of Debate about Our Membership of the European Union Leaves Much to Be Desired - Even from the Business Community, Argues PETER TROY


Byline: PETER TROY

LAST week the national head of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), John Longworth, reportedly said the best way to end political uncertainty over the UK's relations with the European Union is to hold an early referendum, ie before 2017.

The call was quickly endorsed by others which encouraged front page headlines in one national newspaper and many articles in which business organisations commented on the vexed In/Out issues of the EU debate; with quotes from both the CBI and also the 200,000-member organisation the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).

For those of us who have been debating the EU membership issue for decades we know too well there are many powerful reasons why an early referendum is not possible.

Not least, there must be a Referendum Bill passed through Parliament and any attempt to rush it through would doubtless meet with stiff opposition from both sides of the EU divide. Politicians could build all sorts of delays into the Parliamentary timetable and stop an early contest.

Also a very salient reason is Mr Cameron's need to conclude plausible negotiations with 'Brussels'. Any pressure to push for an early 'reform' risks one or more member states blocking his moves.

Indeed, senior officials at number 10 insist up to two years will be needed to secure a successful 'renegotiation' with the other EU countries. Whether any sort of meaningful renegotiation is possible or credible has to be seriously doubted.

What is not in doubt - as last week's reporting illustrated - is the lack of quality discussion and knowledge on the whole subject of the European Union by the UK media and the over simplified, as well I argue at times the non-representative comments of business pressure groups. Quotes from both the CBI and the FSB were much reported.

Whilst the CBI favours EU membership on behalf of its corporate members, understandable because the EU is pro big business, the FSB has a stance which is curious. The FSB represents the small, but large in numbers, business community.

Twice in their history FSB branch delegates have vote for a policy to leave the EU at their annual conferences. In 2001 as an FSB activist I, along with a colleague from the North East, proposed a motion calling for the federation to demand withdrawal from the EU which was supported by the representatives of the branches by a majority of 68%. …

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