Commenting on the announcement of a deal by the Prime Minister – following months of intense negotiation on the future of the UK’s relationship with the European Union – John Longworth, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce, said:
“Businesses across Britain will be relieved that the horse-trading between Westminster and Brussels is now concluded, and that the hard work of recent months could potentially deliver some benefits for the UK. The real test for the Prime Minister’s deal is whether it can deliver tangible benefits.
“On competitiveness, much relies on the Commission’s commitment to deregulation and to concluding meaningful free trade agreements. The necessary widening and deepening of the Single Market remains to be tackled. It is notable that there is no UK-specific opt-out from regulations that are not directly related to trade.
“On sovereignty, success depends on whether the UK opt-out from ‘ever closer union’ actually curbs the expansive jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, whose activism hamstrings British businesses. Ensuring national parliaments, including our own, can actually stop EU proposals they deem damaging, is crucial.
“Safeguards for non-Eurozone countries will only feel real when all our firms – not just those in the City of London – believe that their access to markets and capital is secure. It is not clear if these vital safeguards are guaranteed. And on the complex and emotive issue of migration, what really matters is whether the UK has tools that allow it to balance the business need for labour and skills with the need for social cohesion. Given that its focus has been restricted just to benefits, the deal cannot substantially address this balance, or the consequent impacts on the UK economy and public policy.
“There is no certainty at this stage whether the deal’s outcomes are legally enforceable and irreversible. What’s more, the deal falls well short of the business expectations we set out nearly a year ago*. If delivered, this deal would change some aspects of the UK’s relationship with the EU. Yet it is inescapable that, deal or no deal, the EU itself remains largely unreformed. The choice facing businesses and businesspeople across Britain is now becoming clearer. For business, it is a choice between remaining in a largely unchanged EU, albeit with some potential new safeguards for the UK, or a future outside the EU, with the near-term uncertainty and disruption of leaving.”
On the British Chambers of Commerce’s approach to the referendum campaign, Longworth added:
“The BCC will not be campaigning for either Remain or Leave, given the very real divisions that exist in business communities across the UK. In the months leading up to the referendum, we will actively survey business opinion and inform the debate without fear or favour. Additionally, we will be demanding clear information and facts from both the Remain and Leave campaigns so that businesspeople can make an informed choice at the ballot box.”
* BCC write to David Cameron in 2015 setting out five key priorities for the reform and renegotiation discussions:
1. Guarantees to protect our economic and other interests at a time when decisions are made by and for the Eurozone (and we’ll never be a member).
2. Sort out the “common market” so that it works for British business. The UK is largely a service sector economy but there is no meaningful internal EU market in services, plus the market in goods is imperfect and unravelling.
3. A cast-iron opt-out to make sure we do not sleepwalk into ‘ever closer union’.
4. Protect our businesses from regulatory burdens, particularly those un-related to trade, with an opt-out if necessary. Most UK economic activity is not directly derived from trade with the rest of the EU — yet all of it is hit by European regulation.
5. A clear and balanced approach to immigration taking into account the need for stability and social cohesion and driven by our skills requirements, meaning businesses can access the talent they need.