Britain’s biggest business group urged Prime Minister David Cameron to accelerate plans for the European Union referendum, warning that investment is beginning to suffer at the hands of a protracted renegotiation.
Carolyn Fairbairn, who took over as director general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) last week, has told City A.M. that uncertainty surrounding the timing of the in/out vote is having a negative effect on British firms.
“I think the uncertainty is playing into business decisions,” Fairbairn said. “We’re beginning to hear of business investment that’s slowing down.” [...]
Fairbairn said there is “a lot to be said” for a quick negotiation period. She acknowledged that there is a “reality about the political process” between Britain and Brussels, but added: “If that could be done quickly, we think that would be good for business.” [...]
Fairbairn, meanwhile, defended the CBI’s position on the EU to City A.M., citing the organisation’s 2013 report “Our Global Future”, which concluded that the majority of CBI members wanted to stay in a reformed European Union.
“Our position is still that,” Fairbairn said, adding, “We are, however, in a position now of negotiating reforms.”
Fairbairn said that “when the deal is done”, the group will poll its members again: “That will be something again we bring back into the public debate.”
When asked specifically about Vote Leave, Fairbairn said: “I think business absolutely has the right to speak and should speak. Any campaigning efforts to try and silence business won’t work and aren’t working.”
She also said she would “challenge” the eurosceptic campaign to “make the case for what an alternative would look like”, adding: “Come and make us a positive case for what the alternative might look like. They’re not doing that.”
Robert Oxley, head of media at Vote Leave, rejected Fairbairn’s challenge, saying last night: “The CBI has been on the receiving end of strident criticism not because they have a view, but because its leadership pretends that its fanatical view is somehow representative of the majority of businesses.” [...]
The pro-EU Britain Stronger In Europe campaign, meanwhile, welcomed Fairbairn’s comments. Lucy Thomas, the campaign’s deputy director, said: “Businesses are overwhelmingly in favour of remaining in the EU and they have a vital role to play in the referendum to make clear what Europe means for British jobs and growth. [...]
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