Business leaders come out in support of Labour's new Europe policy

 

Political Editor

Business leaders have given broad support to Ed Miliband’s new policy on Europe after he announced that a Labour Government was “unlikely” to hold an in/out referendum in the 2015-20 parliament.

The praise was in marked contrast to growing fears among employers that Labour would pursue an "anti-big business" agenda if it regains power at next year’s general election. Mr Miliband has alienated many in the business world by proposing interventionist policies such as a 20-month energy price freeze.

As The Independent has reported, Mr Miliband confirmed that Labour would not match David Cameron's pledge to call a 2017 referendum, which has created uncertainty in the business community and fears that foreign investment in the UK will be put at risk.

The Labour leader said his party would call a public vote on EU membership if there were any proposals to transfer powers to Brussels, but believed this was "unlikely" before 2020. He tried to reassure voters by promising reforms - including doubling from three to six months the time EU migrants have to wait before being able to claim jobseeker's allowance.

Sir Mike Rake, president of the CBI, said: "Any uncertainty is unhelpful when trying to secure long-term investment. The CBI strongly supports Ed Miliband's view that we are better off in a reformed EU than outside with no influence... business believes that future investment, growth and jobs depend on the UK being part of a competitive and outward-looking EU."

Terry Scuoler, chief executive of the manufacturers' body EEF, said: "Anything that reduces uncertainty about our membership of the EU will be welcomed by most businesses. Holding a referendum in 2017 would be an unnecessary distraction and is forcing some international businesses to question their long term investment plans in the UK."

Juergen Maier, managing director of Siemens Industry UK, said: "We welcome measures to reduce uncertainty to business at a time of fragile economic recovery - so a move to only call for a referendum if certain and well understood conditions are not met is helpful."

Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of the WPP advertising group, said Mr Miliband's speech was a "move in the right direction" but that it was "another story" whether business would change its overall attitude to Labour.

The Institute of Directors called for an EU referendum. Simon Walker, its director general, said: "Our members are pragmatic, there is little appetite for withdrawal, but there is broad support for reform of its institutions and practices. They recognise that the EU has to change, and it makes sense to put such changes to the British people."

Pro-European Labour MPs welcomed the Shadow Cabinet's decision but Eurosceptic Labour MPs were disappointed. Six Labour backbenchers tabled a Commons motion calling for a referendum "at the earliest opportunity". Graham Stringer, MP for Blackley and Broughton, described the Miliband strategy as a "shoddy compromise" between Labour MPs who want a referendum and those who do not. "The public are very clear they want a referendum. This is so ambiguous as to be impossible to sell on the doorstep."

Tories welcomed Labour's move, saying it would help them see off the threat from the UK Independence Party. Mr Cameron said: "The British people now have a very, very clear choice at the next election. They can elect a Conservative government that will renegotiate Britain's position in Europe and give people a guaranteed in/out referendum by the end of 2017. If they get a Labour government, they will get no referendum, no choice, no reform, nothing."

The Liberal Democrats confirmed that Labour’s new stance was in line with their policy. A spokesman for Nick Clegg said the party's general election manifesto would repeat its 2010 pledge that there should be an "in/out referendum the next time a British government signs up for fundamental change in the relationship between the UK and the EU".

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