By Paul Goodman
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I wrote an eeyorish piece recently about how any EU referendum for reform or withdrawal will be lost if business doesn't back it – since the support of politicians for any cause has become a devalued asset.
As if to help prove my point, up popped Roland Rudd, who heads Business for New Europe, with a letter to the Daily Telegraph signed by some of the usual suspects, including Lord Brittan and Sir Stephen Wall (neither of whom were prominent business people when I last looked).
Rudd was thus carrying the battle into the enemy camp, so to speak, given the Telegraph's Euro-sceptic leanings, not to mention those of its readers. The letter criticised David Cameron's EU summit veto. Rudd followed it up with an article in the Times (£).
Today comes the fightback – which again takes place in the enemy camp, at least from the view of many Euro-sceptics. The Financial Times is one of the few British bastions of the Euro-enthusiast cause. Its letter columns host a counter-missive from Lord Leach and 20 others.
It backs the Prime Minister's veto, declaring that "David Cameron deserves the full support of the business community…Those who would portray Mr Cameron’s use of the veto as bad for jobs and growth or as leaving the UK “isolated” are mistaken."
It adds that "the real threat to employment is the euro crisis, which was unaffected by his veto and which the recent summit did little to address…it is most welcome that the prime minister has shown himself willing to stand up for an outward-looking and competitive Britain."
The letter's signatories include Anthony Bamford, the Chairman of JCB, and Simon Wolfson, the Chief Executive of Next, and the powerhouse behind it is clearly Open Europe, of which Lord Leach is the Chairman.
I can't see the names of any former politicians or senior civil servants attached to the letter, which is a plus. However, I think it's fair to say that a number of the signatories are familiar figures from the Euro-sceptic camp.
The battle will be swung by the views of business people who to date haven't joined it. The Daily Mail notes this morning that poll of its members by the Institute of Directors found that 77 per cent of them supported Cameron's veto.
I presume that in any referendum big business will come out for the status quo. The views of medium-size and small business could be decisive. A campaign is needed to bring Euro-sceptic business voices together. I repeat: how about calling it Business for Britain? Or World Business?