The EU Referendum

This week, the Confederation of British Industry launched a document weighing up the costs and benefits of Britain being in or out of the European Union.  Their conclusion, unsurprisingly, is that we should stay in.

Some of us haven't forgotten that, about a decade ago, the CBI also campaigned for Britain to join the euro.  I was leading Business for Sterling at the time, pointing out that the majority of businesses in the country didn't agree.

Now, the CBI says that any of the alternative arrangements for Britain outside the EU, where we would have to negotiate trade deals rather than have automatic access to EU markets, would disadvantage business.

Coincidentally, I was in Oslo last weekend.  Norway is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, with one of the highest standards of living, and it isn't a member of the EU.

The Norwegian people have voted no twice, once in 1972 and again, narrowly, in 1994.  The CBI says that, by nevertheless being a member of the European Economic Area, Norway has access to the single market, but no say over its rules.  Others say this isn't the arrangement which Britain would choose anyway.

What's striking is that almost no-one is defending the status quo.  The CBI also says that "there is a growing unease about the creeping extension of EU authority" and that "Europe has to become more open, competitive and outward looking."

That view was echoed by the Prime Minister this week.  British public support for the EU, he said, was "wafer thin".  There were "lots of things in the EU that badly need reform."

His policy is to negotiate a better deal with the EU and then let the people decide, in a referendum, whether Britain should be in or out.

We can debate the costs and benefits of EU membership.  But only if there's a Government committed to holding a referendum will the British people have the chance to decide.

So this Friday, instead of my usual day of constituency meetings, I will be in the Commons to vote for Report Stage of the European Union (Referendum) Bill.

This says there must be a referendum by the end of 2017.  And that's the power of this policy.  It won't be the Prime Minister who decides whether Britain should remain in the EU or not.  It won't be MPs.  It certainly won't be the CBI.  It will be you.    

Christopher N Howarth