PM’s EU speech receives cautious welcome from industry

The British livestock sector has given a cautious welcome to David Cameron’s long-awaited speech on the future of Britain in the EU.

Speaking at the City of London headquarters of Bloomberg yesterday (24 January), the Prime Minister said the EU faced three major challenges: problems in the Eurozone, which he said lacked “the right governance and structures”; a crisis in European competitiveness; and “a gap between the EU and its citizens”, with a lack of democratic accountability.

Calling for “fundamental, far-reaching change”, he set out his vision for a new European Union, based on the principles of competitiveness, flexibility, power flowing back to member states, democratic accountability and fairness.

Cameron acknowledged the fact there were demands to hold a referendum on Britain’s membership in Europe now, but said he didn’t believe that “to make a decision at this moment is the right way forward, either for Britain or for Europe as a whole”.

He added that the next Conservative Manifesto in 2015 would therefore ask for a mandate from the British people for the Conservative Government to negotiate a new settlement with Europe “with the Single Market at its heart”, pledging an “in-or-out” referendum in 2017, once the new deal had been agreed.

Speaking after the speech, British Poultry Council chairman John Reed welcomed the Prime Minister’s focus on securing a new deal that would serve UK interests.

“Although poultry producers do not receive subsidies, Brussels has a major impact on our industry. The effects that common standards, tariffs, trade rules and other regulations, including CAP reform, have on food manufacturers should be considered in any evaluation of the UK-EU relationship,” he said.

“As the Commission reported last week, the European poultry meat market is expected to continue to grow over the next decade, while still coping with high feed prices. In any event, UK poultry producers are counting on a strong UK-EU relationship to support crucial sectors such as ours.”

However, National Farmers’ Union president Peter Kendall pointed out that it was still unclear whether negotiations would be beneficial for farmers. “Today’s speech is the start of the very long debate about the UK’s relationship with the EU. There is a lot to be reviewed and we have not yet seen the specific areas that government will focus on,” he said.

“It is vital that our farmers are treated fairly and equally with their European competitors, so the NFU’s focus remains on the fight for what is best for British agriculture.”