Rival campaign groups have been set up on the forthcoming referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, with three former prime ministers – John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown – joining the pro-EU group.
The issue is of much interest to nearly 700 Indian companies who have offices in Britain, since their presence here gives them access to the European market.
The pro-EU group, called ‘Britain Stronger in Europe’, was launched on Monday with prominent businessman Stuart Rose as its chairman. Two groups campaigning to leave the EU are called ‘Vote Leave’ and ‘Leave.EU’.
The referendum is due to be held by the end of 2017. Prime Minister David Cameron has been meetings heads of EU states to seek a renegotiation of the treaty, since the current situation is seen to take away several powers from the member-states.
Launching the campaign, Rose said that staying in the EU could be a “patriotic course for Britain”, since leaving was “not worth the risk”. He reiterated the view of the business community that Britain should remain in the EU.
“I believe our economy and security will be weaker outside the EU. To claim that the patriotic course for Britain is to retreat, withdraw and become inward-looking is to misunderstand who we are as a nation”, he said.
The groups seeking Britain’s exit from EU believe that Britain is being held back by the EU, which they say imposes too many rules on business and charges billions of pounds a year in membership fees for little in return.
The question on the referendum ballot paper will be: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens in the UK – including Indians – above 18 will be eligible to vote.