Public will opt to stay in EU, says defence boss

In their manifesto the Conservatives pledged to hold the referendum by 2017, but did not rule out bringing the vote forward

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The Independent Online

British voters will “make the right choice” in an in/out EU referendum, the European boss of one of the world’s biggest defence contractors has claimed.

Andrew Tyler, the London-based UK and Europe chief executive of Northrop Grumman, told The Independent he would vote to stay in when the referendum is held.

The poll was a Conservative general election manifesto pledge and is due to be held in 2017. However, with the eurozone Britain’s biggest trading partner, many big businesses have been spooked by the economic uncertainty created by the UK’s possible exit from the EU,  and pressure for an earlier poll has been mounting.

Manufacturers are set to join the calls today for a referendum at the “earliest opportunity” in order to limit the economic damage that continued uncertainty over the outcome would bring. EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, argues that it is “not in the UK’s long-term interest” to wait until 2017 and says the referendum should be held in the spring or autumn of next year.

 

“Business and investors hate uncertainty and the longer this drags on the more damaging it will be,” said Terry Scuoler, the EEF’s chief executive. “We simply cannot afford to prevaricate on an issue of such importance for the future of our nation. ”

In their manifesto the Conservatives pledged to hold the referendum by 2017, but did not rule out bringing the vote forward, and the EEF is the latest body to press for an earlier vote. The chief executive of WPP, Sir Martin Sorrell, has said “the earlier the better”, and Roland Rudd, the corporate lobbyist who chairs Business for New Europe, has said an earlier referendum would be helpful.

But some business figures have argued the opposite. Michael Spencer, the boss of the interbroker dealer Icap said the issue “should not be rushed” and that David Cameron needs to be given time to achieve substantive change in the UK’s relationship with the rest of the EU before putting the matter to a public vote.

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British Prime Minister David Cameron talks with President-elect of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker

The EEF will also call on the Government today to campaign for Britain to remain in the EU, citing evidence that 85 per cent of manufacturers say they want to stay in the single market.

However, the nascent Out campaign has some high profile City support from the likes of the hedge fund manager Crispin Odey, the publishing magnate Richard Desmond, and the bagless vacuum inventor Sir James Dyson.

Northrop’s Mr Tyler said: “‘In’ will get my vote. Is it dangerous to have a vote? I’ve got a pretty high confidence that the British public will make the right choice and vote to stay.”

But in a boost to the Out campaign, Mr Tyler insisted that a Brexit would make little difference to much of the defence industry or to Northrop, a US-based company which makes the Global Hawk drone. “Nato is more important for defence-related issues than [the EU],” he said.

That runs counter to a claim made last week by Paul Kahn, the president of the UK arm of Airbus. He said the group would reconsider future investment in Britain, where it has 16,000 employees, if it were no longer part of the EU.

Mr Cameron will hold talks this week with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on securing changes in Britain’s relationship with the EU.

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