Matthew Elliott is the Chief Executive of Business for Britain.
Last month 500 British business leaders, including
the likes of Next boss Lord Wolfson, Ocado chief Sir Stuart Rose and Phones4u
founder John Caudwell, announced
that they were backing a campaign for ‘real change in the EU’ and urged ‘all
political parties to join in committing themselves to a national drive to
renegotiate the terms of Britain’s EU membership.’ Having received
a warm welcome on these very pages, as well as elsewhere, Business for
Britain set about changing the debate on how the EU impacts upon our home-grown
Today a letter has appeared
in the Independent, signed by Roland Rudd, Richard Branson, Martin Sorrell
and others, which seeks to defend Britain’s membership of the European Union,
offering up small changes to a relationship they see as providing more
positives for Britain than negatives. The signatories are the same people who,
back in January before the Prime Minister’s Bloomberg speech, were expressing
concerns that any attempts to renegotiate our membership of the EU could create
‘damaging uncertainty’. They are the same people who, at the turn of the
century, were urging Britain to join the Euro.
Britain’s relationship with the EU is broken. This doesn’t mean it can’t be fixed, but that fixing will be difficult and it
is crucial that groups representing Britain’s businesses are honest about what
that change will entail – namely treaty change and fundamental reform.
What the letter’s signatories fail to grasp is
that simply deepening the Single Market will not make the EU more competitive, especially
if the wider concerns that business has about the status quo in our
relationship with Brussels are not addressed. Blindly promoting the benefits of
our membership with no examination of the underlying problems is dangerously
complacent. The debate business wants to have is about what changes are needed,
and fixating on the In-Out dichotomy instead of addressing the root cause is
putting politics ahead of economics.
The Conservative Party in the past few weeks
has often given the impression that it is divided on Britain’s membership of
the EU. Yet its position is supported by the vast majority of people in this
country: identify the problems, seek to correct them, then decide. In fact it
is the Labour Party that is under pressure to make its mind up. The Co-Chairman
of Business for Britain and significant Labour Party donor, John Mills, has got
people on the Left rallying
to his cause calling on Miliband and co to agree to a referendum.
A process has been put in place by David
Cameron. It is sensible and backed by the vast majority of the British public
and British business people. Those who have the most to gain from the EU will seek
to frustrate it. We must be united in pushing forward the changes that are
absolutely vital for Britain’s economy and seek to get a better deal for
Britain rather than getting side tracked.