The CBI has signalled its determination to campaign for Britain to remain in the EU, as the battle lines are drawn for the country’s in-out referendum campaign.
The UK’s leading business group published a glossy report, Choosing Our Future, on Wednesday, liberally sprinkled with quotes from companies and trade bodies about the boost to their bottom line from remaining in the European single market.
The referendum on EU membership David Cameron has promised may be as much as two years away, aand will follow the prime minister’s efforts to renegotiate Britain’s position in the union with his EU counterparts.
Following the launch of official in and out campaigns, the CBI, which represents 190,000 businesses employing 7 million people, is keen to show that it will play a leading role in promoting the benefits of remaining in a reformed EU.
“The single market has been the solid foundation of our economic success in recent decades, giving us direct access to eight times more consumers than in the UK alone and ensuring we can go toe-to-toe with larger economies on major trade deals, creating jobs and economic growth here in the UK,” said John Cridland, the CBI’s outgoing director general.
The business secretary, Sajid Javid, criticised the CBI earlier this year for weakening the prime minister’s hand as he prepares to negotiate with Brussels, by appearing to offer unconditional support for British membership.
Mindful of that criticism, Cridland said: “We should not be blind to the downsides and recognise the EU, like any big institution, has its faults and needs to do better.”
Throughout the new report, however, CBI member companies and trade bodies large and small laud the EU and its benefits.
“We export over 60% of the music made in the UK – our biggest markets are the European Union and America. Access to customers through the EU single market has undoubtedly helped the UK music industry become a world leader,” says Jo Dipple, the chief executive of UK Music, which represents the industry.
Andy Wood, the chief executive of the Southwold-based brewer Adnams, says: “We are making British beer popular across Europe, selling easily through the EU single market to our largest export market, Sweden, meaning we can continue to grow our 420 strong workforce back home.”
Echoing a report published by the Britain Stronger in Europe group last weekend, the CBI also stresses the benefits to UK consumers of membership, which allows them to “buy cheese from France, salami from Italy, beer from Belgium and put it in a fridge from Germany as if they were buying from the UK, with no extra charges”.
It suggests that leaving the EU would mean having to negotiate new trade deals with longstanding European exporters, and could see tariffs and taxes slapped on foreign goods.
The opening salvo in the campaign from the business community comes as Mark Carney, the Bank of England’s governor, prepares to deliver his own verdict on the risks of a Brexit in a speech at St Peter’s College, Oxford.
Speaking on Wednesday afternoon, Carney is expected to reveal the results of Project Bookend, a Bank investigation into the implications of a British exit from the EU for its key tasks of maintaining monetary and financial stability.
Most business groups appear poised to line up behind the campaign to stay, but trade unions are divided. Some see the EU as a powerful guarantor of human rights, but others fear the prime minister will bargain away worker protections in his forthcoming negotiations.
The TUC’s general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: “The EU is at its best when it meets the interests of both business and workers. But the prime minister’s plans for EU renegotiation will put at risk important rights that UK workers get from the EU, such as paid holidays, rest breaks and protection against working excessive hours.
“If you take workers’ rights away, they will be less likely to vote to stay in the EU.”
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