EEF: Britain in danger of sleepwalking out of European Union

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THE MANUFACTURERS’ organisation has urged politicians to lower the temperature on the debate over Britain’s future in Europe.

Speaking at an event in Yorkshire, Terry Scuoler of the Engineering Employers’ Federation said Britain is in danger of sleepwalking out of the European Union.

He said 85 per cent of EEF member companies want to stay in the trading bloc, an open and free market with 500m people.

But he warned that the union was in “dire need of reform” and said Britain must push Brussels to concentrate on growth, competitiveness and investment and less so on “all-encompassing social dialogue”.

The EEF hosted its inaugural Yorkshire dinner last night for manufacturing companies in the region. It was attended by 115 people. Mr Scuoler said there is a strong desire among partner nations in Europe to compromise to keep Britain in the EU.

“There is significant frustration however that we do appear as a nation through our coalition Government to be changing the goalposts as we speak and our colleagues in Brussels and other European capitals are looking for some consistency from us,” he told the audience.

Prime Minister David Cameron this week vowed to toughen migration controls in spite of business concerns and dismissed warnings that the referendum would destabilise the economic recovery.

Speaking to The Yorkshire Post afterwards, Mr Scuoler said the Prime Minister has raised the temperature of the European debate over the last six to eight weeks. He said that if Britain pushes for treaty change that could trigger referenda in some of the 27 member states.

Mr Scuoler said: “There’s an element of irrationality coming into this debate from other sides of the political spectrum.

“Let’s lower the temperature, let’s not be tempted to use invective, let’s work on the economic benefits, understand what it is we want to bring back from Brussels and work with our allies to try and secure that.”

Mr Scuoler pointed out that 50 per cent of Britain’s exports go to Europe and 50 per cent of exports are manufactured goods so the issue has great relevance to Yorkshire’s industrial base.

He claimed that the economic benefits of staying in the EU are not being adequately voiced.

Another big issue facing Yorkshire manufacturers is the skills shortage. The sector needs an estimated 800,000 to 1m new entrants by 2020.

Mr Scuoler called for more apprenticeships at an advanced level, greater employer ownership of skills training and deeper engagement with schools and said more women should be encouraged into manufacturing.

Lloyds Banking Group sponsored the dinner, which took place at the Royal Armouries in Leeds and was attended by industrialists including David Grey MBE, the current Master Cutler, Charles Turner of blademaker Durham Duplex and Graham Sykes of performance engineer GSPE. Leigh Taylor of Lloyds said: “We call ourselves the manufacturers’ bank. We were founded by two industrialists, Taylor and Lloyd.”

Jury still out on Miliband

The jury is still out on the question of whether Labour leader Ed Miliband understands the importance of business and manufacturing to the UK, according to the EEF.

CEO Terry Scuoler said: “I heard his speech at the CBI conference when he was talking about a very balanced approach to pay, wage growth and making everyone in our society feel the benefit of this recovery, which is still very much underway.

“Business will probably have to work with the Labour frontbench to influence that manifesto. The jury is out and Ed and his frontbench colleagues have to demonstrate when they look at market interventions, whether it be in the energy sector, the banking sector, the construction sector, that any inventions have to be balanced.

“There are existing mechanisms out there... in terms of regulators. Market interventions sometimes have unintended consequences.”