Suffolk: Chamber members opposed to withdrawal from EU but back return of key powers

John Dugmore, Suffolk Chamber chief executive

John Dugmore, Suffolk Chamber chief executive - Credit: Archant

More than 95% of businesses across Suffolk believe that Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union would represent a backward step for the regional economy, a survey has revealed.

The poll, part of a British Chambers of Commerce “EU Business Barometer” study, gathered responses from companies of all sizes and sectors on a series of scenarios.

Withdrawal from the EU and a re-negotiated trade agreement received the lowest positive impact rating, of just 3.5%

But nearly two-thirds of firms polled (64%) said that, while they believed the UK should remain in the EU, some powers should be transferred back from Brussels to Westminster.

Among the powers which firms would like to see “repatriated” are those governing areas including employment law and health and safety.

The findings suggest that businesses in the county broadly support Prime Minister David Cameron’s plan to attempt to renegotiate the terms of Britain’s membership of the European Union but remain sceptical over the case for complete withdrawal.

“Business is telling us that withdrawing from the EU would be bad for business,” said John Dugmore, chief executive of Suffolk Chamber of Commerce.

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“We know, in the main, that as part of our ‘Exporting is Good for Suffolk’ campaign for 2013, that being part of the EU is viewed as opening doors for exporters.”

However, Mr Dugmore added: “Business has spoken clearly in this survey. They have said that to encourage growth and create jobs, to cut red tape on employment and health and safety law should be the responsibility of the UK government, not Brussels.”

Suffolk Chamber’s Exporting is Good for Suffolk campaign involves a year-long programme of activities which has been backed by Mr Cameron and a number of other supporters including Lord Stephen Green, Minister of State for Trade and Investment.

The survey on EU membership comes with the scene set for a clash in parliament between the coalition partners over Europe.

Mr Cameron has pledged to back Tory backbencher James Wharton’s plan to use his success in the latest ballot on Private Members’ Bills to introduce a proposed law drafted by the Conservative Party which would require an “in or out” ballot on EU membership to be held by the end of 2017.

The move is opposed by the Liberal Democrats, who are set to join Labour in opposing the measure. Even if there was a theoretical majority in favour of the Bill, the Liberal Democrats’ opposition means that the Bill is unlikely to secure Government time and could therefore simply be “talked out”.