Business for Britain: How should we respond?


A new organisation, Business for Britain, has been launched to make the case for looser ties between the UK and the EU.  It claims to have the backing of 500 business leaders, many of them very familiar names indeed.  It is backing Cameron’s call for re-negotiation, and the repatriation of powers from Brussels.  And it is the son of Business for Sterling, a campaign that many of us feel played a major rôle in keeping the UK out of the €uro.  With hindsight, a very good decision.

As Dan Hannan Tweeted on April 22nd, “There are far more impressive names in Business for Britain than among the pro-EU business lobbyists. Will BBC coverage reflect it?”.

Now there will be some in UKIP who will argue that we should have nothing to do with Business for Britain.  They will see it as an extension of the Conservative Party.  It is explicitly backing Cameron’s renegotiation policy, which we in UKIP believe is doomed to failure.

But I think we should be wise to adopt a more generous approach.

First of all, Business for Britain is setting out to challenge the myth that “British business supports EU membership come what may”.  This view is looking pretty threadbare.  Many of the business people I meet have deep reservations about the European project.  Many in the City used to support it, but the new rules on bankers’ bonuses, and the proposed Financial Transaction Tax, have clarified their minds wonderfully.  The EU is a clear and present danger to the City of London.

Yet nonetheless, the idea that “Business supports the EU” is persistent, and taken for granted by the BBC and other news media.  Business for Britain is doing us all a service by challenging such lazy thinking.

Then secondly it is moving the terms of the Europe debate.  A few years ago, the idea that the UK should leave the EU was seen as “extreme”, and bien-pensant opinion assumed a firm commitment to on-going membership.  If a major renegotiation, à la Business for Britain, becomes the new normal, then outright withdrawal can no longer be seen as extreme.

Thirdly, Business for Britain will be making the case for a robust shopping list of powers to be repatriated.  They are a large and well-funded organisation, and will get plenty of air-time.  And they will be focussing on our problems with the EU.  I can’t pre-empt their campaign, but I guess they will talk about the damage the Working Time Directive is doing in the NHS; the lack of labour market flexibility imposed by the Agency Workers Directive; the costs and waste implicit in the REACH (chemicals) directive; the damage to the automobile industry from over-zealous environmental legislation.  I hope they will demand repatriation of our fisheries.  I especially hope they will oppose the EU’s climate and energy package, which is driving up energy prices, forcing business and jobs off-shore, driving households and pensioners into fuel poverty, and covering our country with wind farms.

The whole narrative is going to be about the problems which the EU creates, and the damage that it does.

And finally, we in UKIP (and I personally) believe that Cameron’s attempt at renegotiation will fail.  Cameron (I guess) hopes to come away with some nominal concessions.  He will come back waving a piece of paper like Chamberlain (“It will be peace in our time”) or John Major (“Game, set & match to Britain”).  But in reality, any concessions he gets will be nugatory.  They will be purely cosmetic.  If we ever get to Cameron’s referendum (which I doubt), Business for Britain’s shopping list will be the standard by which the renegotiated package will be judged.  And by that standard, it will fail.

This will clarify our own position in such a referendum perfectly: “Cameron and the EU failed to meet the reasonable demands of the British people, as set out by British business, so now we have to vote OUT”.  I think, on balance, that this new campaign will be very positive for our cause.

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27 Responses to Business for Britain: How should we respond?

  1. John Latham says:

    I think Business for Britain will add strength to the renegotiation campaign but they don’t mention pulling out when necessary. Does this mean they aren’t a serious “Out” movement?

  2. grumpydenier says:

    Mr Helmer, the only advice I can proffer is ‘when supping with the Devil, use a long spoon’. This bit doesn’t fill me with a great deal of confidence.

    Business for Britain is absolutely not about leaving the EU. What unites our supporters is an agreement that the status quo in our relationship is not working and that the Government is right to seek a new deal for the EU and the UK’s terms of membership. Instead of pushing the debate to the extreme corners of In vs Out, we should be having a sensible discussion about what is right and what is wrong in our current arrangements. Resisting renegotiation will push public sentiment further towards Out and fast-track an EU exit.

    • Rich Tee says:

      They are making the common mistake of thinking you can change a tanker’s direction by shouting instructions from a dinghy.

  3. Make use of their arguments that Europe is not working for business at the moment, in order to counter the pro EU side’s claim that leaving would be a disaster.

    In the meantime, we need to be realistic. With the Dims in coalition there will be no in/out vote in this Parliament. And if there was one in the next one, many voters would be swayed by the argument “we would be better off renegotiating”. Far better to attempt renegotiation first, see it fail and then remove it as a red herring from any future debate.

    Finally I say be patient. We actually have a chance of a referendum in 2017. Nobody would have dreamed we be so close to one even 5 years ago.

    • Mike Stallard says:

      And you really think that anyone – anyone – in the European government is going to pay the slightest attention to what the “populist” referendum in an offshore island comes up with?

      • rfhmep says:

        Key point, Mike. I’m sure that the EU institutions will do their best to wriggle out of it, and they are past masters at bypassing road-blocks. But I also believe that if the British people vote to leave the EU, then leave we will, probably amicably, but without agreement if necessary.

    • DougS says:

      “Make use of their arguments that Europe is not working for business at the moment, in order to counter the pro EU side’s claim that leaving would be a disaster…..”

      You make an excellent point Paul – use the argument above but don’t support the general tone about wanting to stay in the EU.

      ‘Business for Britain’ has the same chance as CallMeDave when it comes to getting meaningful concessions from the EU – somewhere between ‘slim’ and ‘none’ and I think I just saw ‘slim’ leaving town!

  4. Mike Spilligan says:

    Mr H: I foresee only procrastination and much watering down of BforB’s wish list, perhaps with some splintering-off by individual businesses. The maxim of ever-closer union will still be there, and those who wish for this, both on the continent and here will be trying to their hardest to resist. Only a single, clear objective, under the slogan of “better off out” will do for me.

    • rfhmep says:

      Indeed Mike. Only (Out” will do for me too. But we have to consider tactics, and how the actions of others may perhaps help us. In this case by setting Cameron’s bar so high that he is certain to fail.

  5. matthu says:

    I may be cynical – but I wouldn’t put it past Merkel & co. to hatch a plan where (say) the EU decides not to proceed with clampdown on bankers’ bonuses and Cameron then hails this as a major negotiation win. Meanwhile it has simply put us back on square one i.e. where we were a month or two ago but Cameron would be able to campaign in a referendum on the basis of having gained a major concession from the EU.

    A bit like Tony Blair announcing a major win on CAP (and giving up a portion of our rebate at the same time) only for the EU to ignore the agreement completely. Back to square one (only we have conceded something to stay there).

    I will never trust any list of “gains” by Cameron during his negotiation. We have been hoodwinked too many times before. We. Simply. Don’t. Trust. Cameron.

    (Or Mandelson. Or Blair. Or Clegg.)

  6. Patryk says:

    People voting Ukip will ensure that Milliband is the next PM and there will be no EU referendum. Oh, sweet irony! 🙂

    • Rich Tee says:

      Except that the mainstream parties are getting worried about UKIP’s electoral influence, coming second in by-elections. The change in their tone in recent has been very noticeable.

      As is often said, UKIP don’t actually need to win elections to have an influence.

    • DougS says:

      It doesn’t have to be that way. If the vote isn’t split by people voting Tory instead of UKIP (Eastleigh?), we’ll keep Ed out!

  7. Mike Stallard says:

    Roger – you work there. Can you honestly say that the people who run Europe are going to listen to anything that goes against their leading policy of a federal United States of Europe? They seem to have a special face when people try and criticise the current move towards a closer union.

    • rfhmep says:

      This is the beauty of the Business for Britain position. They raise the bar for Cameron in his negotiation, giving him a robust shopping list. This will indeed be refused in Brussels. The British public will be rightly angry that their reasonable demands are derisively dismissed. So what’s left? Only to vote OUT.

  8. raymond f jones says:

    Running in line with this business plan,we have to have more British ownership of business, and we have to have a strong home sales,Much of what we call British business is foreign owned from Briton.If we do ever leave the E.U. those foreign owned Businesses could pack up and leave,so we need patriotism in Business.Without a strong home based system designed not to be affected or weakened by this possible threat.

    • rfhmep says:

      Thanks Raymond, but I’m not too keen on your protectionist tone. Lots of UK businesses are owned by foreigners. But lots of foreign businesses are owned by Brits. It’s a two-way street. And if “foreign-owned businesses pack up and leave”, they will presumably want to sell those businesses to someone else — not burn them down. We need to cut out our spending on the EU, make major supply-side reforms, get the price of energy down, and let the economy grow.

  9. I completely agree Roger. I often speak to my non-political friends, and it is remarkable how many of them are still convinced of our need to be in the EU. We who fight to get out often overestimate the popularity of our position, but if you look at the polling, the vast majority of the British population would favour renegotiation over an out vote.

    The only way we’re going to secure that ‘out’ result is if we can categorically say to the British people: ‘we tried renegotiation and it didn’t work’. I hope this campaign succeeds in that respect, although I’ll agree with some of the other comments that the tone leaves me with a slight feeling of unease.

  10. abbeylane5 says:

    Merkle, Cameron, holidays at her house and cosy chats ‘Business for Britain’. Good business usually finds a way to thrive. I wonder why this country uncomfortably skirts around a deep recession? B. for B. don’t seem to be doing very well right now? So many people throughout Europe unemployed. It’s going to take more than a few businesses dealing with the EU merchants to fix things. Are we supposed to continue paying the massive daily EU fee just to support these businesses? Let the Business’ for Britain’ pay the fee themselves, while England reaches out to the rest of the world.

    • rfhmep says:

      I think you’re missing the point, Abbeylane. BforB are certainly not about maintaining the staus quo. They’re asking serious questions about the future of our relationship with Europe.

  11. Spinwatch says:

    I don’t think B4B will “raise the bar for Cameron in his negotiation, giving him a robust shopping list”.

    Cameron’s speech is part of a far wider charm offensive for conning British people and business, that his party is not really the monster we’ve seen – a blue-Lab clone sold out to the EU, environmentalism and other PC. There will be much more of this soft-soaping in the 2 years up to the next general election.

    He is odds-on NOT to win a majority in 2015, which means no renegotiation. Quite conveniently, as under EU law, you can’t repatriate powers from within ( has a good summary.) And if Cameron got back, he is such an untrustworthy europhile that he would ensure that discussions went on forever without anything to put to a vote.

    B4B has already been conned by Cameron, and is opposed to the one thing that will help British business – EU exit with free trade (which is actually supported by the Treaty of Lisbon). It will therefore not rock the boat too much, and lull business into a false sense of security.

  12. cosmic says:

    “It is explicitly backing Cameron’s renegotiation policy, which we in UKIP believe is doomed to failure.”

    Not only that, but Cameron is very unlikely to be in office to do anything about it anyway. So really it’s just a dishonest gesture which might keep enough eurosceptic support on side to make the difference in the next GE between a defeat and a total rout.

    I can see your argument that it tends to corner Cameron into doing some “real aerobatics”, but I’d say he has no intention of doing anything of the sort, just talking about it. He’d rather lose the next GE than win it and be faced with an unavoidable confrontation with the EU which would lead to exit. The danger I see is that it tends to give weight to the idea that the EU can be reformed.

    The obvious question about their position is, “Supposing these reforms are insufficient or non-existent? What then?” They appear to exclude leaving the EU, so is it shrug our shoulders and carry on?

    This is exactly the same question the Tories refuse to acknowledge, leave alone answer. “What happens when the others say no to these reforms and repatriations?”.

    It’s rather like going to buy a car and telling the seller that that you have to have a car by the end of the day, his is the only one on offer, and you have the full price, and then expecting him to enter into a serious negotiation over a lower price.

    • rfhmep says:

      But Cosmic, BforB don’t get to make the In/Out decision — the voters do. And if they feel that Britain’s reasonable demands have been rebuffed (as they will be), they be cross, and vote Out.

      • cosmic says:

        I don’t beileve any sort of renegotiation or repatriation of powers is possible whilst staying members of he EU. That is, however, the fiction the Tories have sold and are still selling.
        “In Europe but not ruled by Europe”, when the sole point of being a member of the EU is to be ruled by Brussels. I can see some Wilson type bogus concessions sold with great hype.

        There are various organisations styled eurosceptic pressing for EU reform, such as Open Europe and I think they bolster the dishonest Tory line of “in but reform”, BforB looks like more of the same to me.

        I’m happy to concede that you may know and understand more about them than I, but I’m inclined to be suspicious.

  13. Spinwatch says:

    Cosmic, as I said above under EU law, you can’t repatriate powers from within

    In a nutshell
    * the EU sees the loss of national sovereignty as PERMANENT in its case law
    * any renegotiation can only be to support the goal over ‘ever closer union’
    * the institution in charge of treaty change, the Council of Europe (heads of government and state) is fully bound by this goal.

    So there is a very clear ratchet-like bar on powers coming back. Don’t believe the old bull about ‘competences’ ( has a good summary on why the spin does not hold water given EU precedents.)

    Business For Britain (in the EU) can waste their time if they want, but should not be wasting everyone else’s. I feel less charitable than Roger – and their website and wider image are awful.

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