EEF warns of dangers of ‘vitriolic and bitter’ EU referendum campaign

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Sheffield will host the launch of a new democratic project to ‘open up’ the EU referendum next week [1], as campaigners seek to move the referendum debate ‘away from personalities and to policies instead’.

EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, has today published a new report looking at the importance of the EU to UK manufacturing and making the case as to why the UK should vote to remain.

At the same time, it warns of the risks posed to business by a ‘vitriolic and bitter’ referendum campaign and says that the way the campaign is conducted could be damaging for UK PLC, irrespective of the outcome of the vote.

The warning and the report are part of EEF’s submission to the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills Committee’s ‘Business Views on EU Referendum’ inquiry.

In the submission, EEF says that manufacturers see a number of risks potentially arising from the EU referendum campaign. These include the potential impact on investment, with overseas investors becoming more cautious about investing in the UK, potential harm to the UK’s reputation and international standing and damage to the UK’s long-term relations with the rest of the EU.

Concerns also extend to the quality of the debate and whether voters will be presented with good quality, factual information and a balance of views. At the same time, however, EEF flags that one of the biggest risks lies ahead in the event of a vote to leave the EU. It says that there is no clear pathway or information for manufacturers about what being outside of the EU looks like or will actually entail and this will fuel uncertainty and give rise to further risks.

Terry Scuoler, CEO of EEF, said:

The risk from financial market volatility, the risk from having no clear line of sight on what leaving the EU would entail and the risk the campaign poses to the UK’s reputation on the world stage, are all weighing on manufacturers’ minds.

Industry will need to manage these risks, but there is a lot at stake in the outcome and in how we get there. As we saw with the Scottish referendum, in many respects the journey is as important as the destination. It is important that the public is encouraged to engage and is able to hear all factual perspectives – a vitriolic and bitter campaign is not in their, or UK PLC’s, interests.

As for the outcome, our members are clear that the UK’s interests are best served by remaining in the EU. They are fully aware of the EU’s benefits and shortcomings, but strongly believe that the right way forward is to reform and improve the EU rather than simply walk away.

Six in ten (61%) of EEF’s member companies want the UK to remain in the EU, while 5% support a ‘Brexit’¹. The majority say that remaining in the EU is important (50%) or business critical (20%) for their company² – 82% say it doesn’t make sense for the UK to cut itself off from its major market³.

The report highlights that UK manufacturing is a globally-focussed, investment intensive and highly productive part of the economy. Companies need to invest in the latest technological advances, stay at the forefront of innovation and collaborate closely with highly integrated supply chains. EU membership supports these goals.

Amongst many other benefits, it is one of a number of factors that ensures the UK is a magnet for investment, creates a level playing field across 28 countries and provides easy access to a base of around half a billion consumers.

The report – Manufacturing: our future in Europe – can be downloaded here.

The research was conducted by telephone by GfK 16/09/15-27/10/15 amongst 500 senior decision makers from manufacturers that are EEF members.

¹ In response to: ‘Thinking now about the forthcoming referendum on the UK’s ongoing membership of the EU, which one of the following best describes your company’s view?’

² In response to: ‘How important or otherwise is it to your company that the UK remains in the EU?’ This was asked of all respondents.

³ In response to: ‘Finally, thinking of the EU, please tell me whether you agree or disagree with each of the following statements.’ This was asked of all respondents.