David Cameron should learn lessons from Scotland and abandon his gamble to hold a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU, senior politicians and business leaders warn today.
On the eve of the Ukip conference in Doncaster, five former cabinet ministers, the president of the Confederation of British Industry and the chairman of BAE Systems, among others, say a referendum on Europe would cause “considerable uncertainty” and “great political risk for the UK in the coming years”.
Instead, they argue that Britain should unite “in its aims to bring change and reform to the EU” and not to “abandon it”.
The signatories include the politicians Ken Clarke, Charles Kennedy, Lord Mandelson, Alan Johnson and Caroline Spelman. Others include Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of the global advertising giant WPP, and Rajay Naik, director of government at the Open University.
The group, whose letter was coordinated by the cross party campaign British Influence, argues that the Scottish referendum has shown the dangers of divisive campaigning. They also released polling showing that, compared with last year, more than half of those questioned believe the UK is more divided than it was last year. Fifty-three per cent also agreed with the statement that “to make sure we move forward together as one country, the divisive arguments over Europe must stop”.
In the letter the businessmen and politicians write: “Another referendum, this time on Europe, could be the next big test for the nation’s future, creating further uncertainty and great political risk for the UK in the coming years.”
The letter notes that further European reforms have now been endorsed by all EU leaders in their agenda for the next five years, because they recognise that this is what the Union needs.
“For the sake of all Europe’s citizens... in a world that has become more challenging and dangerous than at any time since the end of the Cold War, we need those leaders to make the case for change in Europe with more dedication and energy than we have seen in recent years,” they write. “This is the way to ensure Britain stays as a powerful member of a reformed EU.”
Those behind the letter believe it is important that the pro-EU message, which is endorsed by a large proportion of the public, is not drowned out in the run-up to the general election, with Ukip and its anti-European agenda getting the lion’s share of coverage.
Clacton by-election: ‘Up to 1,000’ at Ukip meeting
Hundreds of people packed a hall in Clacton tonight to hear Ukip leader Nigel Farage and Douglas Carswell, who defected from the Tories, pour scorn on the main parties. Mr Carswell is standing for Ukip in a by-election on 9 October that was triggered by his defection.
All 700 tickets were taken, and organisers estimated that the numbers in the Clacton Coastal Academy hall could have been up to 1,000 with “standing room only”.
Ukip spokesman Michael Heaver said that about 90 per cent of the audience had raised their hand when asked to do so if they were not a member of the party.
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