John Longworth: 'We should look at EU'

A BUSINESS leader has urged the Government to bring forward a referendum on Europe, telling the Prime Minister his negotiating position was strong.

A BUSINESS leader has urged the Government to bring forward a referendum on Europe, telling the Prime Minister his negotiating position was strong.

John Longworth, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said businesses wanted to stay in the European internal market, but not at any price.

Half of BCC members wanted a renegotiation of existing terms, with only one in four happy with the position, he told the chambers’ annual conference in London.

Longworth said the EU was “moving away“ from the UK and the relationship would have to be renegotiated.

“Britain currently runs a massive trade deficit in goods with the EU and a small trade surplus with the rest of the world, so the Prime Minister’s negotiating position is strong.

“Trade is rapidly shifting away from a stagnant Europe towards the rapidly growing emerging markets around the globe.”

Chambers of commerce supported the Prime Minister’s stance on renegotiating the UK’s position in the EU and expected a future administration to pursue the same goals.

“There is a but, however, once again the Government has chosen to push a decision until after the next election. Uncertainty is not helpful and the Prime Minister should consider engaging in negotiations this side of the election and bringing forward a referendum.”

Foreign Secretary William Hague told the conference it would be difficult to bring forward a referendum on Europe because there was not a majority in Parliament in favour of the move.

The policy was part of the Conservative Party’s ambition of seeking a new settlement with Europe, then having a referendum.

“It would be difficult to hold a referendum without a majority in Parliament. We have to work with the political cards the electorate gave us – and there are constraints.”

Mr Hague said the debate in the UK about Europe was not affecting companies’ plans to invest in this country.

The ease of doing business, the English language and corporate tax regime were all factors firms took into account, he said.

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