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Jo James: We need clear and concise information for the EU referendum

By Jo James, Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce chief executive

So where do you sit in the EU debate? Are you in the In or Out camp?

The nation is certainly divided on this one. This is one of the most important decisions that we are going to have to make for many years as British citizens.

With the referendum fast approaching, it’s vital we are all given clear and concise information on the implications and impact of either staying in or leaving.

The EU headquarters in Brussels
The EU headquarters in Brussels

For the sake of the future of the country, we all need to be in a position to make an informed decision.

Politicians competing for air-time, giving out conflicting views, certainly do not help the situation.

Many of our members are perplexed. Many vote one way with their business hat on and sway the other way as an individual.

In the last survey of members, the majority believed that the positive benefits of being in the EU outweighed any negatives.

When we surveyed members in September, they did not know the detail or ambition of the Prime Minister’s renegotiation package.

Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce chief executive Jo James
Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce chief executive Jo James

Now our findings suggest the renegotiation has had little impact on day-to-day business or their vote.

Many made up their minds beforehand, making David Cameron’s work in Europe effectively irrelevant.

Our findings suggest that for business people, this is a question of in or out — not renegotiation. Business remains divided on Europe and business leaders’ views reflect the size of their firm and their export interests, rather than the current political debate.

They are making rational economic choices based on their own interests. Our findings are a wake-up call for both the Remain and Leave camps.

Neither side can bank on a change to business opinion in the wake of any renegotiation settlement.

The director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, John Longworth, came out in favour of Brexit at our annual conference. It led to him being suspended, followed by his resignation.

Many people have said to me they thought it was unfair.

If the Prime Minister can voice his opinion, why can’t John?

As a chamber network, we have agreed to stay neutral and provide members with information to make an informed choice.

It wasn’t that John couldn’t have an opinion, it’s just unfortunate he expressed it on the wrong platform.

As I’m writing as chief executive of Kent Invicta Chamber, you obviously won’t get to read where I stand on this one. I want to keep my job.

Kent Invicta Chamber, jointly with the University of Kent, is holding an EU debate on Thursday, May 19, in Ashford. Details soon at www.kentinvictachamber.co.uk

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