The FINANCIAL — A lobby group called Business for Britain stoked the fires of debate on the issue recently when it published a 1,000 page report insisting that the UK might be able to prosper as a European nation set apart from the EU.
That claim was dismissed though as wishful thinking by many of those with more pre-European tendencies but it is clear that opinion is split on the subject among leading business figures in London and elsewhere, according to EUbusiness.
Business for Britain’s report was entitled “Change, or go”, with the clear message to British prime minster David Cameron being that the UK should significantly change its relationship with the EU or else pull out of the union altogether.
Among the reforms that a certain section of Britain’s business leaders would like to see are a veto for the UK on European laws and permanent protections for London’s financial services heartlands from any rules that might impact their activities.
Furthermore, the “Change or go” lobbyists would also like to see the UK regain control of its employment laws from the EU as a condition of staying with the union.
According to Matthew Elliott, Business for Britain’s chief executive, there is a popular perception “advanced by doom-mongers” that the UK would be negatively impacted as a nation by leaving the EU.
“The EU is not a free trade area but a customs union, and one which has spectacularly failed to deliver trade deals with rising economic giants like China. The UK would be better able to withstand the consequences of a future eurozone meltdown if it were to adopt a looser relationship with the EU now,” the lobbyists’ report said.
Remaining part of the union without any significant reforms being introduced would be the “worst of all worlds,” it concluded, according to extract published by the Daily Telegraph.
However, other prominent business figures in the UK were quick to offer their support for the UK remaining part of the EU.
Sir Mike Rake, chairman of the telecoms group BT and president of the Confederation of British Industry, said that EU membership is overwhelmingly in the interests of UK businesses.
“Of course the EU is far from perfect,” he said. “However, making wildly unrealistic demands while threatening to leave is not the way to reach a workable agreement.”
UK prime minister David Cameron has promised that there will be a nationwide referendum on the issue of Britain’s membership of the EU before 2017, with Cameron’s Conservative Party itself believed to be divided on the subject.
A study conducted earlier this year on behalf of the RSM-European Business Awards found that more than 80 per cent of European business executives would like to see the UK remain part of the EU.