Airbus Group UK’s Paul Kahn warns of the dangers of the UK leaving Europe

With the election beginning to fade into memory, the business of Government is well underway. The Government, with its narrow majority is using its honeymoon period to deliver its manifesto pledges, including an EU referendum, which is already at the centre of serious debate despite the fact that it could be up to 18-months away.

Last night, Paul Kahn, President of Airbus Group UK, delivered a speech that set out the importance of remaining within the European Union. In his view, being a member of the EU is critical to maintaining the UK’s competitiveness and securing the right economic environment; both of which govern investment decisions made by Airbus.

Given the size of Airbus’ UK operation, which employs around 16,000 people with £6bn in turnover, the consequences of EU withdrawal would have a significant long-term impact that would also be felt throughout the supply chain.

Mr Kahn’s speech is a start to a campaign that looks set to intensify over the coming months. By coming out early in strong and clear defence of EU membership, suggests that industry has learned the lessons of the Scottish referendum: if it matters to your business – and to your workforce – speak up, and speak often.  The challenge for business – on any side of this debate – will be to ensure that the messages resonate with the electorate, without actually telling them how to vote.

The Scottish referendum and indeed the general election would appear to indicate that as well as becoming more unpredictable, public sentiment should not be underestimated. Focusing only on the value of EU membership might not be enough; positioning the upcoming referendum as an opportunity to deliver positive change around the UK’s involvement in the Europe needs to be given similar emphasis.

Once a date is set and the cacophony of voices on both sides of the debate begins to rise, so will public interest and public apathy. Making clear industry’s views – with simple, tangible messages – on the UK’s competitiveness in the EU will be really important if voters are to cut through the noise and to understand the impact of voting to stay in – or out – on their jobs and their prosperity.