Chris Carter is a Research Executive at Get Britain Out.
Yesterday, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) attempted to make the case for Britain staying in a reformed European Union. In their report, ‘Choosing Our Future’, they advocate voting to remain in the EU because, they claim, it will benefit UK businesses.
Let’s remember, the CBI was a strong advocate for the UK joining the Euro and the ERM in the 1990s, causes which it would later regret supporting. This begs the question: they were wrong about our supporting both the Euro and the ERM. Why should we believe them now when they are advocating our remaining in the EU?
The CBI itself clearly views the referendum as a case of third time lucky, as it is simply regurgitating previous arguments for joining both of the failed currency ventures. Environmentalists will certainly approve of the CBI’s commitment to reuse and recycle.
The report highlights the ‘500 million consumers’ the single market apparently assures. Quite why all these consumers would suddenly disappear post-Brexit is not explained.
Furthermore, the report argues that the EU has ensured there are only one set of rules British businesses have to work by. This is partly true. They already have to abide by regulations from Brussels. Yet the CBI fails to clarify how leaving the EU would suddenly result in UK exporters having to deal with 28 different sets of rules, especially as Britain will almost certainly negotiate its own trade deal which would assure a form of access to the Single Market. In fact, after Brexit it will not be about less regulation, it will be about equivalent regulation which Britain will have control over. British businesses will simply get on with it as they already do when they trade with other countries.
The CBI fails to acknowledge the simple fact that less than 4.27 per cent of UK businesses directly export to the EU whilst 100 per cent of them are restricted by regulation from Brussels. This suggests the focus of the CBI is protecting the interests of large exporters at the expense of smaller, UK-focused businesses.
Despite repeated requests the CBI has refused to reveal a comprehensive list of its supporters and funders, something one would think an organisation which claims to represent companies who employ a third of the private sector workforce would be keen to show off. This lack of transparency is also an issue when considering the CBI’s relationship with the EU itself.
At a Spectator debate on Tuesday, entitled ‘Is the EU bad for business?’, on the panel was Andy Bagnall, the CBI’s Director of Campaigns. Bagnall co-ordinates the CBI’s policy outputs, with a particular focus on the CBI’s political engagement and role in the EU referendum. Throughout the debate he repeatedly boasted of the CBI’s prominent relationship with the European Commission – a relationship so close its Brussels office is located just around the corner from the Commission. He attempted to assure the audience that organisations like the CBI would ensure the Commission would bring in necessary changes to our relationship with the EU.
It appears Bagnall may have inadvertently revealed the real reason why the CBI supports Britain’s membership of the EU so strongly: it secures the CBI’s own position. While the CBI can afford to maintain a full time office in Brussels, smaller British businesses cannot. If Britain were to leave the EU many British businesses would have little need to pay for organisations like the CBI to lobby the European Commission. Instead they would be able to appeal to their local MPs themselves.
Some of these companies should question their current relationship with the lobbying group. Following a question concerning the Redcar steelwork closures Bagnall admitted the steelworks were members – and yet the CBI did nothing to save the company. The dire situation in the British steel industry has resulted from the illegal dumping of cheap steel from countries like China. While American regulators typically implement anti-dumping tariffs, the EU normally takes over a year to implement similar measures. So much for the EU’s rhetoric of swift ‘collective action.’ One must question why a business group which champions the cause of EU reform has done nothing to rectify a problem which has caused such damage to a major UK industry which it claims to represent.
Ultimately, the CBI has a clear vested interest in the UK remaining in the EU. It is driven by its own desire to maintain its status as the “the UK’s premier business lobbying organisation”. It benefits from more and more powers being ceded to Brussels, mainly for the benefit of large companies, which greatly reduces the influence of smaller UK business organisations and lobby groups, who are its competitors. Its assurances that reforms are best achieved from within the EU appear to be derived more from the desire to protect its own influence rather than securing any meaningful reform on the behalf of British businesses.
The European project ultimately benefits bureaucrats and major lobbyists. The EU Commission and the CBI are a match made in heaven. We need to get Britain out of the EU as soon as possible – for the benefit of the people and all businesses, not just those who are members of the CBI.