John Longworth, the director general of the Chambers of Commerce, has decided to weigh in on the European debate. Good, you might think – about time the business community spoke up about an issue they tend to remain silent on. Unfortunately, but probably rather predictably, the comments offered were not in any way helpful.
“We need to bring the referendum date forward because two and a half years of uncertainty isn’t good for growth and investment,” he told the BBC. “It should be no more than twelve months after the general election.”
Let’s break down the logic of this statement. So two and a half years of uncertainty is bad – but a year’s worth is just fine? If you believe that the prospect of a referendum is bad for business – and Longworth’s comments make clear he believes this to be the case – then why not just say you’d rather have no uncertainty at all and call the Tories on this point?
There’s yet another layer to all this, however: holding an EU referendum sooner than 2017 is a near impossibility anyway. In fact, having it in 2017 seems incredibly difficult. Cameron has to renegotiate a “new deal” for Britain in the EU – this will presumably require treaty change of some description, which will be what we end up voting on when the referendum takes place. That takes ages to put in place, even when all the players are behind you. Given these conversations will be taking place against the backdrop of a Brexit, the impetus will be for everyone to let the whole thing drag out. June 2017 looks mighty ambitious from that perspective.
Perhaps there’s a clue in Longworth’s further comments on the matter of the European Union.
“More than any repatriation of powers, businesses want to know that the UK has safeguards against being drawn closer to the Eurozone – especially as history tells us that currency unions inevitably fall apart unless there is real political, economic and social integration.”
Okay, so he doesn’t like the Euro, and doesn’t want Britain to join it. I don’t really see how that’s on the cards in any way, shape or form – he might as well be worried about Iran joining the UK as a fifth nation. If ever Britain was going to join the Euro and ditch the pound, I seriously don’t think anyone in the entire country would think that not having a referendum on the matter was acceptable. If the EU gave Britain an ultimatum, either join the Euro or leave, same applies. But none of that is happening and it is almost impossible to see it ever happening. So why is the director general of the Chambers of Commerce sweating about it then?
That I cannot answer. Other than to say I remain disappointed that a prominent member of the business community has spoken up about an EU referendum at last – and said a bunch of gobbledygook.