Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

U.K. Campaign to Quit EU Mobilizes for Referendum in March 2016

  • September or October 2016 seen as more probable timing of vote
  • Cameron's authority, Labour divisions speak for early ballot

One of the core groups that campaigns against U.K. membership in the European Union is mobilizing for the possibility of a referendum as soon as March.

Business For Britain, one of three separate “Leave” groups that are launching in September and October, moved into offices in London with room for 100 staff last weekend. It was forced to delay its launch from earlier this month when the government changed the referendum question in response to concerns by the election watchdog.

“We’re not expecting the referendum to be in March, but we will be ready for March,” Chief Executive Matthew Elliot said in an interview. Earlier this year, Prime Minister David Cameron was said to be leaning toward holding the vote in October 2016.

Cameron’s Conservatives won a surprise majority in May’s general election on a platform that included a referendum on Britain’s membership in the 28-nation EU by the end of 2017. While delaying the vote as long as possible would give Cameron more time to win the concessions from EU partners he has said he will secure, holding it sooner would give EU skeptics less time to persuade voters that leaving the bloc was safe.

A snap referendum would also allow the prime minister to capitalize on his post-election authority and to take advantage of a divided opposition Labour Party to swing the result his way. An ICM poll published Sept. 15 found 43 percent in favor of staying in and 40 percent for leaving.

Elliott sees it as essential to persuade voters that leaving wouldn’t pose the economic risk cited by groups including the Confederation of British Industry.

“The CBI wants to campaign for in, but their membership is divided just like the rest of the business community, so they really should stay out of the debate,” Elliott said. “Many of the entrepreneurs that I speak to are concerned that the burden of EU regulation is costing them business and preventing them from expanding and creating jobs. That’s why we need to take back control of our own economy from EU politicians.”

Others campaigning to leave the EU are the U.K. Independence Party and The Know, a politician-free campaign set up by a former UKIP funder, Arron Banks.

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