For the CBI, Britain’s membership of the EU is an article of faith. Sajid Javid assailed this position yesterday in his first speech as Business Secretary to the organisation. He had a dual purpose in doing so.
First, his attack lined him up alongside David Cameron – his main point being that, by declaring that Britain should stay in the EU regardless of the Prime Minister’s renegotiation, the CBI is thus undermining it. ““I’ve heard that the CBI thinks the UK should remain in the European Union no matter what,”Javid said. “Does it really make sense to say, so early in the process, that ‘the rules of this club need to change, but don’t worry – we’ll always be members no matter what?” Second, it was a reminder that he would be content to travel further than Cameron seems prepared to go. As the Financial Times points out, the Business Secretary has said that “leaving the EU isn’t something we should be afraid of.” His audience knew that the road may fork – taking the Prime Minister one way and Javid the other. They had before them a potential leading member of the No campaign. How they must miss Vince Cable!
The CBI’s view faithfully represents that of bigger businesses – for which regulation, Brussels-style, is an ally since, while they can cope with it, smaller enterprises often cannot, and the position of the former in the market place is thus protected: this is Crony Capitalism at work. But could the media – and yes, BBC, we mean you in particular – please stop presenting the CBI as though it were the only business voice in Britain? It isn’t: there are many others, whose belief in EU membership is more qualified than the CBI’s, or doesn’t exist at all. The Institute of Directors declared recently that 60 per cent of their members say that their support for membership “is conditional on successful reform in key areas”. The Federation of Small Businesses said last year that small businesses are not concerned at the possibility of Brexit. The British Chambers of Commerce has gone out of its way to back a renegotiation and referendum. So much for claims that business is united in believing that both will damage investment.
Javid’s attack on the CBI’s position thus deftly combined a neat political manoeuvre with being right. No wonder he is steadily climbing up this site’s future leadership poll. Party members like this child of Thatcher with a compelling back story and a no-nonsense manner.
Mind you, the Business Secretary would have done his audience an even bigger favour if he had presented a roadmap of what the Prime Minister’s renegotiation strategy actually is. It is being kept deliberately vague. Perhaps even the well-briefed Javid isn’t in on the plan.