Matthew Elliott is Chief Executive of Business for Britain.
When I established Business for Britain earlier this year, it was because some of the most impressive and successful business people I had met while directing, first the TaxPayers’ Alliance, and then the NO to AV campaign, had complained to me that their views on Britain’s EU membership weren’t getting heard.
Organisations such as the CBI, and campaigns like British Influence, seemed to hold a media lock on the voice of entrepreneurs when it came to the EU – arguing that the business leaders were almost completely in favour of membership, that any attempts to ‘rock the boat’ would be devastating for British companies, and that an EU referendum certainly wasn’t in the business interest.
These arguments were familiar. Back in the late 1990s, British Influence’s predecessors were making similar warnings about what would happen to Britain if we didn’t join the euro. “If the government rules out membership of the euro for the lifetime of this Parliament,” wrote a coalition of business people headed by Sir Martin Sorrell, “such a decision would be damaging for British-based businesses, British employees and the British economy as a whole.”
In this era – before the recession, before the banks failed, before the expensive and painful bail-outs of Eurozone countries indelibly fixed into a failed political experiment – large multinationals would warn that their companies would leave Britain if we weren’t part of the single currency.
These same companies are making that case once more and, as Peter Wilding pointed out on this site yesterday, in Business for Britain’s poll of over a thousand UK business leaders – the largest and most comprehensive yet conducted on this issue – there were a slim minority who claimed their business would fold in the event of a Brexit.
While it is welcome to see a traditionally Euro-enthusiast campaign like British Influence taking our polling so seriously, in this, as in all polls, context is key. Business for Britain is not yet prepared to consider the In/Out question. David Cameron’s speech in January this year, and the moves within the Eurozone to lock countries into a banking and fiscal union, have changed the terms of the debate.
Today, Britain has the means, leadership and intent to renegotiate a much better deal from Brussels.
The polling by YouGov for Business for Britain was the first real effort to define what renegotiation could look like. The results are clear: a clear majority of business leaders want to see treaty change, they want to see powers repatriated to the UK – particularly in nine key areas of competence that are currently under the control of the EU – and, most singficantly of all, they want Britain’s relationship with the EU to be based on trade, not politics.
This is the real ‘bombshell’ at the heart of our polling. The time has come for British Influence to admit, the best way to prevent Britain leaving the EU is to get behind Business for Britain’s push for a thorough renegotiation.