Warning that PM's referendum promise could hamper recovery
THE BOSS of Nottinghamshire's biggest business organisation has warned that David Cameron's decision to hold a referendum on EU membership in five years' time could hamper efforts to get the UK's stuttering economy back on track.
George Cowcher, the chief executive of Derbyshire & Nottinghamshire Chamber of Commerce, says more than 80 per cent of the firms who make up its membership do not want to leave the EU.
He warned that Mr Cameron's decision to wait five years before a referendum is held could leave some businesses uncertain about whether or not to commit to investment plans pitched at European trade.
"We are all desperately trying to promote growth in the UK. This is not terribly helpful for that agenda," he said.
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The European Union is far and away Britain's biggest trading partner, with most continental exports going into big countries like Germany and France, and smaller countries like Belgium and Holland.
Mr Cowcher said: "We did a survey on this very issue in June last year, and the key finding is that 80 per cent of those who responded had no doubts about EU membership.
"But 47 per cent did want a looser relationship and we now have to find out from them what they mean by that so that we can tell David Cameron what their priorities would be for any change."
The chamber's survey showed that 25 per cent of its members wanted no change in the UK's relationship with the EU.
Ten per cent of those who responded wanted to leave – but an identical number wanted even closer integration.
Mr Cowcher said it wasn't clear whether loosening the UK's ties with the EU would harm business. "It depends on how the relationship is loosened," he said.
"If we end up in a situation where we have no say on how trade is done in the European Union then that would clearly damage things.
"On the other hand, if it meant we could opt out of rules like the Working Time Directive and all the other bureaucratic bits and pieces that businesses find difficult to deal with then that would be fine."
But Mr Cowcher criticised Mr Cameron's decision to leave the referendum issue hanging over the economy until 2017.
He said: "Five years is a long time. It leaves people who are making investment decisions now wondering whether the ball park will change, which means the UK could become a less attractive place to make investment."