"It might never happen”


The UK General Election result raises plenty of questions for any company doing business in Europe today: What deal will the UK seek? What will other EU countries accept? How important is timing to the final result?

On Wednesday 3 June 2015, Low Associates and Interel brought together Andrew Lansley CBE, former UK Secretary of State for Health, and Richard Corbett MEP, former adviser to EU President, Herman von Rompuy to answer these questions from either side of the political fence.

Andrew Lansley, speaking in his personal capacity, suggested that the UK government would be aiming for a referendum in September 2016. This timing would allow for a reasonable deal to be struck with other EU member states and avoid the issue of Europe dominating Cameron's mandate.

Achieving a deal that would fly with British voters and the other member states was of course essential to Britain remaining in the EU. The UK government’s red lines on migrant benefits, or a red card for national parliaments would need to be seen to be met; and the deal would also need to be, at least in part, good for the rest of Europe (with more single market; more growth orientated policies).

But although a deal is necessary, and in his view, achievable, it would not form the substance of the campaign. The campaign would be about competing visions of Britain’s future and it was imperative that a large rump of the Conservative party fall in behind the PM in order to secure a Yes vote. Businesses would play a key role, not least in funding the Yes campaign. If Britain wants to continue to trade with the rest of Europe, it needs to remain in the EU.

Richard Corbett agreed with Andrew’s assessment of the challenges ahead but warned that achieving a deal on migrants would be extremely difficult given the position of other EU member states; and that any serious attack on the social chapter would see the unions and part of the Labour party joining the No campaign. 

He urged Mr Cameron to jump on the current reform bandwagon which would allow him to return from his negotiations with an even larger bag of goodies. He said that the Yes campaign would have to be a constellation of distinctive voices, with all parts of society playing a role; taking voters on a journey rather than telling them how to vote.