22 November, 2017

Honing the relationship (November 2013)

06 May, 2014
Businesses in the UK may largely be focused on providing their goods and services on time, to the right specification and to the right standards. And this ‘focus and get on with it’ attitude seems to be paying off, with encouraging economic signals peppering the business press over recent weeks. However, home-grown firms, while being ‘in the zone’ concerning their core competencies, are far from complacent when it comes to the European Union, and the role they consider UK plc should play within it. While it appears that most businesses want to remain in the EU, they also want specific powers transferred back to Westminster. The British Chambers of Commerce’s (BCC’s) EU Business Barometer Q3 2013, which recently gathered responses from more than 3200 businesses of all sizes and within all sectors across the UK, tested five scenarios for Britain’s future relationship with the EU. Companies were asked to give their view on the potential impact of each scenario on Britain’s business and economic prospects. The results showed that businesses want more decisions made in the UK. More than half (57 per cent) of respondents believe that remaining in the EU while transferring specific powers back to Westminster would positively impact the UK’s business and economic prospects. These have previously included health & safety law, and employment law. Also, firms feel that fully withdrawing from EU membership would harm UK business interests. A majority (58 per cent) of responding firms believe that leaving the EU would damage the UK’s business and economic prospects. This is up from the 53.6 per cent seen in Q2. However, further integration is also viewed poorly. Only 7.7 per cent of businesses feel that it would benefit the UK if there was no change to the current relationship, while a plurality (41 per cent) believe that it would hinder the UK’s economic prospects. John Longworth, director general of the BCC, commented that British businesses continue to remain pragmatic in the face of ever-escalating confusion from politicians and the media over Europe. “The majority of UK firms are determined to see a revamped relationship between the UK and the rest of the European Union, with more powers exercised from Westminster rather than Brussels,” he said. For the quiet majority of companies, the status quo is simply not an option, believes Longworth. Nor, in his view, are the increasingly shrill noises from the hard-line pro- and anti-lobbies. “Ministers must pursue reform and renegotiation as a priority,” he remarked, “and ensure that a firm timetable is in place for renegotiation and for any referendum to follow.” For all the public bluster, Longworth maintains that the BCC survey shows that business continues to support the Prime Minister's objective of a renegotiated settlement with safeguards for the future and a reformed Europe. For this to be successful, he believes the European Union must believe that the UK is serious in its desire for change. “The Prime Minister should be given the support, time, space and patience required to negotiate a credible deal in Britain’s national interest,” said Longworth. But within this context of any proposed changes, clarity should always be sacrosanct. It is largely behind a backdrop of greater lucidity that UK firms would be in a better position to think about how they can develop their business – not only in terms of continuing to satisfy, and expand within, UK/European markets, but also further afield; for example, into the BRIC countries and beyond. As Horace Walpole once wrote: “When people will not weed their own minds, they are apt to be overrun by nettles.”





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