The EU referendum – Britain’s “biggest decision for a generation” – finally arrives one week today on 23 June. Whether the UK votes to stay in the European Union or not, business will be living with the seismic ramifications for decades to come
It started on a long, Haribos-fuelled night. And it will end on one of the year’s shortest nights after a four-month campaign that has been anything but sweet. When David Cameron called the EU referendum on 20 February after 30 hours of non-stop negotiating in Brussels (and 23 bags of German gelatinous gummies, apparently), it kickstarted a boisterous campaign that has seen accusations of bullying, a widely ridiculed £9.3m leaflet offensive, and the Sun telling Remain supporter Emma Thompson to “shut yer cakehole”.
When polling booths open next Thursday, the political reputations of the campaign’s two most prominent flag-bearers will both be at stake. Little wonder they’re emphasising how epochal this referendum is, with pro-Remain David Cameron informing us, “This is a decision that lasts for life”, and Vote Leave’s Boris Johnson also echoing the plebiscite’s “once-in-a-lifetime chance” billing.
Just like 1975, when Britain voted in a referendum to stay in the EEC (the EU’s forerunner), the majority of high-profile business voices, such as Sir Richard Branson, Dame Carolyn McCall, and the Bank of England (which has warned Brexit could seriously harm the pound) – not to mention international big-hitters Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, the IMF’s Christine Lagarde and Barack Obama – have all declared their support for a vote to remain in the EU.
The Eurosceptic camp may lack comparable star wattage, but it’s been no less vociferous, with Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin, Sir Rocco Forte, Sir James Dyson, hedge fund manager Crispin Odey and JCB boss Lord Bamford (argument: European red tape is strangling British businesses) all arguing withdrawal from the EU would make the UK more prosperous.
Meanwhile, a recent survey has revealed the lion’s share of IoD business leaders (63 per cent) are in favour of Britain remaining, though three-quarters of members believe the EU needs reform to stave off economic decline. Of the 29 per cent of IoD members who advocate Brexit, many favour a ‘Norway-style’ relationship with the EU (the UK would have access to the single market, but couldn’t negotiate and vote on EU legislation).
The existential crisis triggered by the big Brexit debate isn’t over just yet. Better get those Haribos out – it’s going to be a long week.
For more on the EU referendum
Go to iod.com/referendum
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