Firms and farmers say Tory EU referendum will cause uncertainty
THE Prime Minister's promise of an "in/out" referendum on the European Union could cause damaging uncertainty for Derbyshire's firms, one of the county's top business leaders has said.
David Cameron yesterday said the British people must "have their say" on Europe as he pledged an in/out referendum if the Conservatives win the next election in 2015.
The Prime Minister said he wanted to renegotiate the UK's relationship with the EU, before giving the "simple choice" of a vote on accepting the result of the talks or leaving the EU.
If all goes to plan for the Tories, Mr Cameron said the referendum would be held during the early part of the next parliament – by the end of 2017 at the latest.
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But George Cowcher, chief executive of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire Chamber of Commerce, said the worst-case scenario would see firms struggling to make investment decisions as they would not know if the UK would be in the EU in the future.
He said: "Business hates uncertainty and that's what will be caused by this."
Mr Cowcher said a recent survey of hundreds of firms who are members of the chamber found that 80% wanted to stay in the EU.
The National Farmers' Union, which has 950 Derbyshire members, has also expressed concern.
Richard Hezlet, East Midlands spokesman, said UK farmers sold a deal of produce to EU countries, including one third of Britain's lamb.
He said: "We compete against others in the same market and if we are to continue to do so it's very important that we have the same terms and conditions as the people we are competing with in Europe.
"The concern is that we could lose a whole market if we left the EU."
Labour leader Ed Miliband called said Mr Cameron was "running scared" of growing support for the UK Independence Party.
Opposing the plans, Mr Miliband said Mr Cameron was "going to put Britain through years of uncertainty, and take a huge gamble with our economy".
Mr Cameron himself said he would campaign "heart and soul" for the UK to stay in the EU.
Tory MP for South Derbyshire Heather Wheeler said the British public were fed up with the demands that being "part of European project" puts on them.
She said: "The Eurozone crisis gives us a chance to renegotiate the rights and responsibilities that our involvement in Europe places on us, which is why it is really important that we take the opportunity to negotiate the best deal for Britain."
Mrs Wheeler, a consistent supporter of an EU referendum, has said she believed legislative powers on employment and social policy should be repatriated.
Mrs Wheeler said: "The EU is an important body. It accounts for a huge percentage of our trade and withdrawal will impact our ability to influence decisions which affect our economy.
"We need a calm and reasonable debate which does not polarise opinion, trade insults and exaggerate problems."