It seems more likely than not that there will be an in/out referendum in 2017, with the Conservatives committing to it, other parties swaying towards it, and UKIP probably wouldn't even have to have a referendum.
It seems that the bulk of politicians from the main parties are passionate for an In result. It also seems that, whilst they are likely to have the vote, they are quite reluctant. They also seem extraordinarily reluctant to give an idea on what the new deal would look like.
The theory is that voters will be offered the choice of voting for a renegotiated deal on Europe, or leaving it. What's vague is what a renegotiated deal on Europe looks like, and whether people will buy into it. A lot of ideas are being banded about. And our relationship with Europe is incredibly complex, and it will take a long time to unravel it.
But there's a bigger snag, and that's the timeline. The vote is intended to happen in 2017. For that to happen, people will need to have had the experience of the renegotiated deal to see if they feel sufficiently comfortable with it to accept it. Some two years of experience would be appropriate. That means the renegotiation would have to have happened and be in operation by 2015, by the time of the next general election.
If voters don't have the experience of the renegotiation, they'll vote Out in the referendum, because they won't know what they're voting for. And if the renegotiation hasn't concluded by the next general election, in 2015, they will have spotted the trick that the vote is rigged, and will vote Out anyway.
The referendum is important to business for two main reasons. Whichever the outcome, there will be wholesale changes to both regulation and opportunity. If it's an In vote on a renegotiated deal, then regulation is likely to be calmed, in degrees, depending on the deal. If it's an Out vote then it is likely that no crystal ball could predict the change in regulation as the UK leaves the Europe Union. That is also true of the opportunity, where nothing less than an open mind on new opportunities would be the right view of the future.
Without a doubt, there would be massive change for businesses. And at this range, not many could forecast the changes that will have to be made, and few will be able to plan for changing business after the referendum. We don’t believe there will be much change in the way we trade with Europe: the big change will be in the way we trade with the rest of the world.