Production firms are fearful of being undermined by a lack of clarity about the UK’s place in Europe and say it is vital the in-out referendum takes place “at the earliest opportunity”.
Richard Halstead, Midlands region director at EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, said it was not in the long-term interest of business to wait until 2017.
Ahead of the expected publication of a Referendum Bill as part of the Queen’s Speech this week, Mr Halstead said it should take place in either May or Autumn of 2016.
He said: “Now a referendum is going to take place, we need to get on with the negotiations and hold the referendum as soon as possible. Business and investors hate uncertainty and the longer this drags on the more damaging it will be.
“It is good to see the Prime Minister forging ahead with an early meeting of his counterparts across the EU to make Britain’s case and Brussels is clearly signalling its willingness to engage. But, having put the recovery on a sound footing, we simply cannot afford to prevaricate on an issue of such importance for the future of our nation. Having trailed this since early 2013 the Government must surely have a clear idea of its proposed areas for negotiation and it must now be a priority to get on with it.”
EEF is also calling on the Prime Minister to campaign positively for the UK to remain a leading member of the EU, emphasising the many benefits of continued membership alongside a pledge to work for reform with like-minded partners.
Number 10 is thought to be considering bringing the referendum forward, after pledging to hold it by 2017.
It comes after Bank of England governor Mark Carney said a vote should happen “as soon as necessary” and called on the Government to enact the legislation at the “appropriate speed”.
He added: “One of the big advantages this economy has is access to the European market. It’s the largest economy in the world, it’s our largest per destination, it’s our largest investor in the United Kingdom.”
EEF research shows that 85 per cent of UK manufacturers would vote to stay in the EU – while in contrast, just seven per cent would vote to pull out.
This rises to 90 per cent amongst manufacturers with over 250 employees, where not a single company would vote to come out.
It is a particular issue in the West Midlands, which has seen exports almost double in the past six years, despite a falling trend UK-wide.
There has been a rising tide of reports the Prime Minister is considering holding a vote in 2016.
However, those planning the Out campaign hope to be given time to build support amid fears they will be defeated by an early referendum.
EEF chief executive Terry Scuoler added: “British manufacturers remain overwhelmingly of the view that our economic wellbeing is linked to the EU and we must stay in membership. It makes no sense to disengage from our major market where we would still face all the costs of compliance and enjoy none of the influence. We can achieve reform by being an active and leading member from within.”