Entrepreneurs react to David Cameron's European Union speech

Nearly 40 years since the UK became a member of the European Economic Community, prime minister David Cameron has outlined the future of Britain's involvement. GrowthBusiness talks to entrepreneurs to find out whether they agree with his plans. 

Euro plan: David Cameron made his speech as part of Prime Minister's Questions

Euro plan: David Cameron made his speech as part of Prime Minister's Questions

Prime minister David Cameron has outlined his plans for the UK's role in the European Union in a speech initially delayed by the Algerian hostage crisis. At Prime Minister's Questions, Cameron said that UK citizens must have 'their say' on the issue of Europe.

He outlined plans for a Yes/No referendum on the issue, conditional on the Conservatives winning the next election and to be held before 2017 at the latest.

'I say to the British people,' Cameron said, 'This will be your decision.'

The prime minister's announcement has been met with mixed reactions by entrepreneurs in the UK who have described the plans as 'archaic', 'vital' and 'weak'. GrowthBusiness has spoken to some of the leading business builders in the country to gauge their opinion and find out how Cameron's vision might affect their businesses.

Jonathan Richards, CEO and founder of breatheHR:

'Distraction'

'I disagree with what Cameron has done, He's bowed to the demands of the right in his party by agreeing to a Yes / No referendum. This will lead to years of uncertainty and that is bound to affect inward investment in the UK. However, we have to ask, did he really have a choice? The debate was going to run forever anyway and be a major distraction from getting the UK motoring again. Aside from this distraction, a Yes / No referendum should bring the real arguments into the open. 

'The internet doesnt recognise geographical boundaries and so we won't need to change our plans for European expansion. This will just be another bump in the road. But I can see that bigger, more traditional businesses will need to rethink business plans.'

Peter Adekeye, CEO of Multiven:

'Vital'

'David Cameron’s points on the single market in particular are of huge importance to small businesses and entrepreneurs. A true single market that allows businesses to compete on a level playing field in all services is vital to the success of the EU, and it was great to hear Cameron reiterate that this should be the Union’s driving mission.

'However, this playing field must be maintained as well as created – the EU authorities must actively encourage competition, and aggressively police against predatory anticompetitive behaviour from large corporations if the initiative is to truly succeed.'

Julian Hucker, CEO Esendex:

'Commit'

'Esendex is a relatively small business and it's easier for us to do business within Europe than it is from outside it. So my view is that we shouldn't even be debating whether or not we are going to have a referendum: that's uncertainty about uncertainty.

'Whilst the government tries to play tribal politics, businesses are faced with great uncertainty over export plans and whether or not to start "securing future prosperity".

'I'm sure that there is much that can be done to improve the effectiveness of the EU and how we work within it but in the meantime the government needs to commit to our future within Europe and start really helping UK businesses to export into it.

'The UK cannot rely on domestic demand if we are to get out of recession – we have to export. Whilst the greatest growth is from the BRIC countries, Europe is on our doorstep: it's the stepping off point.'

Peter Grant, CEO of CloudApps:

'Archaic'

'David Cameron makes some good points in his speech regarding the UKs relationship with Europe. In order to drive economic recovery, the EU must be a more transparent, flexible body with an emphasis on personal interaction. It must reflect the new model that successful European businesses are adopting in order to compete with the rest of the world.

'Giving the individual greater responsibilities and input will lead to greater innovation, and enable them to maximise the potential of their organisation. Gamification techniques that enable workforce development such as this can be a useful tool for government to make it more relevant to voters.

'Aside from the argument itself, the idea of running a referendum on a one-off basis is an archaic one. Modern businesses are using technology to constantly engage with employees, a practice that the government would do well to employ.'

More on the European Union:

Dave Chaplin, CEO of ContractorCalculator: 

'Uncertainty'

'David Cameron’s proposals to complete the single market and to exempt small businesses from EU directives may directly benefit the UK’s flexible workforce of contractors, interims and freelancers.

'If repatriating powers from the EU means safeguarding our flexible labour laws and preventing new legislation that harms future competitiveness, then Cameron’s proposals are to be applauded.

'However, the referendum commitment has introduced a level of uncertainty about the UK’s future in Europe which will undoubtedly damage the prospects for corporate inward investment. That in turn will harm the contractors and small firms that rely on such clients for their livelihoods.'

Arnab Dutt, owner and managing director of Texane:

'Red herring'

'The EU referendum is red herring. Britain can trade better with the rest of the world when it is part of a powerful trading block. The EU has to evolve and that evolution is better driven from within. In my opinion British business is stronger as part of the EU.'

Sarah Lafferty, director and co-founder of Round Earth Consulting:

'Weak'

'Although I understand Cameron's predicament over EU membership, I am disappointed that he did not act with more conviction. As a business owner, I am very concerned about the uncertainty that prolonging this debate will cause. 

Cameron knows that the risk of leaving the EU is too great to contemplate in terms of business and job losses and geopolitical isolation. He has the perfect excuse to take a stand because the coalition was voted into power to fix the economy. Leaving the EU poses a massive threat to this project. This was a weak political manoeuvre.'

Adam Grunwerg, founder of Investing.co.uk:

'Calculated'

'Overall I find it hard to disagree with what Prime Minister Cameron said in his EU speech. Rather than threaten the EU over the need for legislative reform, he has taken a positive, calculated approach, offering the the option of a referendum in the future, which gives him greater negotiating power and makes him seen as more democratic to the Eurosceptics in his party.  

'He clearly stated that he wants to remain in the single market; I agree that with are much better off remaining in the EU on business, health and environmental issues.  In my opinion he has very little to lose in giving that speech.'

Stephen Fear, British Library's entrepreneur in residence:

'Necessary'

'I have been considering our position within the EU for a long time and the issue of a referendum for even longer. In my opinion we simply must remain in the EU and to leave would spell disaster for British Business and British national security in what is becoming a faster paced and dangerous world. 

'I salute David Cameron because of his recognition that a referendum is necessary to confirm what I hope will be our continued and vociferous membership of the EU. We need a fresh mandate and from that point on, to use a phrase often used by mountaineers, "don't look down and keep on climbing".'

Rob Cotton, CEO of NCC Group:

'Important'

'We’re a global business with European operations so strong EU links are obviously important to us. The UK needs to retain a central financial and commercial position in Europe, without being hampered by complexity and surplus organisations.

'If the UK is now able to take a leading role in streamlining and clarifying its role in the EU, so much the better, but goals need to be clear and decisions made quickly – business never benefits from policy makers continually discussing rather than taking positive action.

'We operate in the cyber landscape and work with many multinational organisations – this absolutely demands international cooperation. We’ve already praised the introduction of the European Centre for Cyber Crime, and initiatives like this must continue.'

Victor Henning, CEO and co-founder of Mendeley:

'Cautious'

'The government should be cautious of fuelling anti-EU rhetoric, as the UK benefits greatly from the freedom of movement that comes with membership to the European Union. 

'Mendeley, the research collaboration company I co-founded in 2008, is a clear example of this. Originally from Germany, my co-founders and I chose to relocate to London to start our business, where we now employ over 50 people - mainly UK nationals, but also from 18 other nations. 

'Companies such as ours are key to the UK’s economic growth, but in order to succeed we must be able to recruit the best talent nationally and internationally.'

James Maskell, founder and CEO of Vinetrade:

'Frustrating'

'It's a disappointing speech and incredibly frustrating. The EU cuts down barriers to trade, gives access to a much larger market and access to a much bigger talent pool. The benefits far outweigh the costs, and membership is essential if the UK wants to stay competitive on a global stage. We must accept that we're no longer the world power we once were.

'I feel that Cameron is not just pandering to unprogressive back bench and grass roots members of his own party, but also attempting to set the stage for the 2015 election, diverting focus away from poor economic performance under his leadership.

'We should be focused on getting the economy back on track, attracting talent and giving entrepreneurs the resources we need to build the companies that will power the economy in the future. This is the wrong debate at the wrong time.'

Duncan Burbidge, CEO of StreamUK:

'Superficial'

'We are European and operate across Europe with offices in countries across the continent. What really matters to us are the substantive links to the continent, both physical (eg trains) and commercial (good banking and a fairly stable currency).  

'Joining the euro would be good at a superficial level, but the economist in me doesn't believe you can ever harmonise fiscal cycles to the necessary extent.'

Daniel Todaro, managing director of Gekko:

'Laughable'

'Statements of intent from this coalition are getting a bit weary now. From the farcical "show of unity" at the coalition’s mid-term review, all the way back to the party conferences in Brighton last year, it’s been the same tired rhetoric: playing to the emotions of the populace with something highly sentimental and blaming Labour for “this mess” at every single opportunity. 

'To offer a referendum in 2017 is a laughably weak and transparent olive branch, how many more reforms are going to be pushed back until after 2015? You can’t only offer policy based on the proviso you get re-elected with two years left in power!

'Between the revolting backbenchers and the disgruntled Lib Dems, Cameron just looks like a man trying too hard to please; and ultimately this proposed ‘a la carte’ approach to Europe is going to cause a lot more damage than good.'

To read David Cameron's full speech, click here.