Delaying the referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union until 2017 would make it “a chance to whack the political elite” rather than a vote on the issues, the Institute of Directors will say today [Tuesday]. Britain’s oldest organisation for business leaders will use its Annual Convention to warn the Prime Minister that “the third year of an election cycle is a difficult time for any administration”, creating the real possibility that the poll would be reduced to a “short-term judgement on the government”.
Simon Walker, Director General of the IoD, will tell an audience of 2,000 business leaders at the Albert Hall that there is “at least a 50-50 possibility” of Britain voting to leave the EU. Businesses will have to accept the electorate’s decision, Walker will say, but will be less pleased if “carelessness and domestic discontent” lead to an “accidental Brexit”.
Excerpts from Simon Walker’s speech, which will begin at 10am Tuesday 6 October, are below:
“The British political class, always prey to groupthink, has had two shocks this year, with the decisive re-election of a Conservative government and the choice of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party.
“I believe a third shock, Britain voting to leave the European Union, is at least a 50-50 possibility. Polling puts the issue on a knife-edge.
“Hardly any IoD members wish to leave the EU as a matter of principle. But a majority have real doubts about Europe's institutions and want to see reform.
“My concern is the timing of the referendum.
“I hope this government will not drag out the referendum process any longer than necessary. While our members believe some uncertainty is a price worth paying to resolve EU membership, delay puts a brake on decision-making, investment and the vigour of their businesses.
“A referendum in two years’ time will see British concerns caught up in the crossfire of the French elections, in May, and the German elections, in September.
“And there are domestic factors that should encourage the Prime Minister to commit to a referendum sooner rather than later. By 2017 this government will have implemented spending cuts that, while necessary, will not be popular. The third year of an election cycle is a difficult time for any administration. There is a real possibility that a 2017 referendum would be a short-term judgment on the government: a chance to whack the political elite.
“If, after deliberation, the public votes to leave Europe, our members will have to accept it, and the period of uncertainty for business that will follow. They will be less philosophical if carelessness and domestic discontent led to an ‘Accidental Brexit.’
“As with all votes, the IoD will not be telling anybody what they should think as we approach the referendum. But I have rather less compunction in suggesting to everybody that they should be focusing squarely on the real issue – would we be better or worse off leaving the EU.”
About the IoD Annual Convention
Lady Barbara Judge CBE, the first ever female chairman of the IoD, and Simon Walker, Director General of the IoD will host this year’s event on the theme of ‘Business beyond Boundaries.’ More than 2,000 business leaders will explore the opportunities and challenges thrown up by globalisation, and hear from experienced business leaders on how they have adapted their organisations in a changing world.
This year’s Convention will feature an debate between Peter Mandelson and Nigel Lawson over Britain’s membership of the European Union. There will also be speeches from:
António Horta-Osório, Group Chief Executive of Lloyds Banking Group, Ed Williams, CEO of Edelman London and Luke Lang, Co-founder of Crowdcube will debate the future of the banking industry.
Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the TUC, Sir Charlie Mayfield, Chairman of the John Lewis Partnership and Sir Roger Carr, Chairman of BAE Systems will also look at what makes a good board, and how directors drive company performance in our “future of the board” panel discussion.
Ian Ritchie, Chief Executive of the Rugby Football Union, and Josh Lewsey, 2003 Rugby World Cup Winner and Head of Rugby at the Welsh Rugby Union will discuss What can Rugby and Business learn from each other?