Monday, April 15, 2013

UK politics: skewing the EU debate

BBC 015-bcc.jpg

I've never thought of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) as an ally in the fight against EU membership, especially as John Entwistle, one time president, was also a council member of Britain in Europe.

Thus it comes as no surprise that the latest survey on EU sentiment from this organisation has most UK companies want to stay in "Europe", with some powers brought back home. 

Conveniently, this finding is in complete accord with the views of BCC's director general, John Longworth. He thus happily declares that, "Companies believe that re-negotiation, rather than further integration or outright withdrawal, is most likely to deliver business and economic benefit to the UK".

The survey is dutifully reported by the BBC, which apparently offered five options: full withdrawal from the EU; withdrawal from the EU followed by a trade agreement; remain in the EU with specific powers transferred back from Brussels to Westminster; remain in EU and integrate further with other EU member states; remain in EU with no change to current relationship. 

Interestingly, nothing on offer even approximates the Article 50 option, which shows how much the structure of a survey can distort the debate. If you put several "risky" choices alongside what looks like a safe option, it should come as no surprise that the 65 percent of respondents favoured the safe choice, with only 18 percent of businesses favouring withdrawal. 

What would be really interesting would be the results of a survey that put to respondents that renegotiation was not a realistic proposition, and then offered the choices of status quo, EFTA/EEA membership, or "sudden death" withdrawal. What is the betting that EFTA/EEA would come out on top? 

Despite this, the BCC is locked into its skewed five scenarios and intends to repeat its survey throughout 2013 and 2014 to establish whether businesses' views on the potential economic impacts change over time. However, in the absence of any widespread publicity on more realistic options for withdrawal, those in favour of withdrawal will probably remain a minority. 

Based on these questions, though, the business view is not worth having. But that will not stop the BCC survey results being rolled out by Mr Cameron and sundry other europhiles, to "prove" that business is not in favour of leaving the EU. Most likely, that was the purpose of the survey in the first place - simply a ploy to neutralise anti-EU sentiment.