Brexit is not just a topic that concerns EU member states. The US also has a major interest in the 23 June referendum as President Obama and others have made clear.
The American interest in the potential implications of Brexit was evident last week when Tom Parker (Cambre CEO) and Fraser Cameron (Senior Adviser) spoke to members of the Public Affairs Council in Washington DC on 25 May.
Fraser Cameron sketched out the reasons for the referendum pointing to the many parallels with the 1975 referendum. He touched on the internecine war in the Conservative Party and how many politicians such as Boris Johnson were using the referendum to position themselves for David Cameron’s succession. The prime minister was an effective campaigner but it was difficult to change public opinion that had been subjected to a diet of anti-EU stories in the media for the past forty years. The intellectual argument, especially on the economy, had been won by the Remain campaign but many people would be voting on emotion rather than an assessment of the facts. Fraser concluded that although the polls showed the Remain camp would likely win on 23 June the referendum was unlikely to settle the vexed question of the UK’s relations with the EU.
Tom Parker focused more on the business implications, warning of the dangers to the British economy if there was a No vote. The Out campaign had not produced any convincing alternative trade arrangements for the UK. Each of the suggestions mooted (Norwegian, Swiss, Canada) had negative consequences. Obama had made clear that the UK would be at the back of the queue for any future trade deal. It was likely to be a similar story with China, India, Japan, etc. Another major uncertainty concerned the single market. Would the UK have unrestricted access or would it seek to limit freedom of movement of labour? If so this could well impact on freedom of movement of capital and thus affect the City of London, and thus many American banks there.
The American audience raised several questions about the possible impact on NATO, T-TIP as well as transatlantic rules and regulations in different business sectors. Their concern regarding the impact of a UK exit from the EU on business interests was evident: generally, industries and companies on both sides of the Atlantic are ill-prepared for such a scenario.
Overall the message to Cambre was that US business community would like the UK to remain in the EU. It was also that uncertainly already prevails and is affecting business confidence.