A new organisation, Business for Britain, has been launched to make the case for looser ties between the UK and the EU. http://businessforbritain.org/ 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.