The promise of a referendum on the future position of the UK in the European Union (EU) has finally been made.
In a much-trailed and long-awaited speech, Prime Minster David Cameron pledged an ‘in/out’ vote – albeit only after he has attempted a renegotiation of the terms of the UK’s membership of the European club.
"It is time for the British people to have their say. It is time to settle this European question in British politics. I say to the British people: this will be your decision," he told the electorate.
However, the proposed 2017 date for the ballot caused concern amongst some pundits who predicted that such a long lead-time could result in a dangerous period of uncertainty that would blight business prospects at the very time that investors are looking for economic certainties.
Mike Boswell, Plastribution’s managing director, was amongst that number. “Having a referendum in 2017 is probably too far off – it could create uncertainty,” he said. “However I’m not sure that whatever is decided will make much difference.
“Companies trade with those that prove to be the most attractive and competitive, not where they are located geographically. Companies will continue to do that [whatever a referendum vote decides].”
“I have no problem with trying to renegotiate some of our terms with the EU,” said Paul Marmot, chairman of bag supplier Allen Marmot. “I have every problem with an exit from the EU. It would be a disaster for the British economy and the uncertainty is already affecting the value of our sterling.”
Stuart Ellis, the boss at Talisman International, a specialist waste plastics broker, took a more hard-line view on treat renegotiations. “We should stay in as a trading partner but extricate ourselves from political involvement if possible. If it proves not to be possible we should withdraw entirely.
“Withdrawal wouldn't affect my business and I don't think it would adversely affect UK business in general. Customers buy from the best supplier regardless of nationality.”
Dr John Bentham, director of Benoil Services, thought the proposed renegotiations prior to a referendum to be fundamentally senseless. “Were Cameron to understand the authoritarian nature of the EU he would see that renegotiating some facets of our membership is trivial compared with the fundamental question of belonging to, and being increasingly ruled by, such an organisation – essentially a bureaucratic oligarchy.”
Joe Reeve, chairman Data Plastics, disagreed. “I despair of the ‘Little Englanders’ who still hate dealing with those strange folk on the Continent.
“The MPs who agitated for [leaving the EU] would be far better employed in agitating for action to support manufacturing and exporters so that Britain can benefit by selling more of our goods to this wealthy and huge market rather than forcing their party leader into making a beautifully crafted but ultimately meaningless speech.
“That will do nothing to encourage inward investment into the UK over the next year or two.”
“The world is changing and institutions that remain static will not be able to survive,” said Philip Law, the British Plastics Federation’s (BPF) public and industrial affairs. “We want to see an EU that provides a harmonised market with light touch legislation to facilitate internal trade and one which takes advantage of the greater economies of scale which will enable the EU to compete successfully in the global marketplace.
“There are serious question marks against the EU's success in delivering these. The debate isn't one for the UK exclusively. It's something all EU states should face up to. It will reduce the uncertainty for business if the Prime Minister can find allies amongst other, substantial, member states.”
James Lee, chief executive of Cromwell Polythene, had an entirely different take on events. “The man in the street doesn’t know or understand nearly enough about this subject to justify giving him a vote on it.”