CBI stands up to be counted: Comment

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The Independent Online
An American politician once famously observed that the interesting thing about the Non Aligned Movement was precisely who it was non-aligned with. Much the same thought springs to mind whenever the Confederation of British Industry parades its non-aligned credentials as far as party politics goes.

The organisation's political neutrality was on display again yesterday as it patiently explained why it stood four-square behind John Major on Europe even as he was threatening to tear up everything the CBI has so patiently worked for over the years with its Continental counterparts. If you accept the outgoing president Sir Bryan Nicholson's spin on events this is nothing more than a spat between club members whipped into John Major's Waterloo by hysterical headlines in the right-wing press. In contrast, his reference to the xenophobic Eurosceptic tendency as "a plague of locusts" is, of course, a model of restraint and objectivity.

Moreover, says the CBI, it is perfectly possible for a member state to bring Brussels to a standstill in pursuit of its own legitimate interests - in this case the lifting of the beef ban - whilst simultaneously remaining at the heart of Europe. The Italians did precisely the same thing over milk.

To those of a less tutored eye than Sir Bryan and his successor, Sir Colin Marshall, it is rather harder to see how the two can be reconciled. For the past decade the CBI has been the voice of reason, advocating that Britain's interests are best served if it is at the centre of Europe, shaping policy and benefiting from the leverage and influence that comes with being part of the world's biggest trading block.

The CBI was sticking to this line yesterdat even as the rest of Europe ganged up on Britain in retaliation over Britain's promise to undermine the forthcoming Inter-Governmental Conference.

The CBI, as we argued in these columns yesterday, is right to stand up and be counted against the Eurosceptics. But by then endorsing Mr Major's stand unquestioningly it risks contradicting itself and strengthening the hand of its opponents. But that, as they say, is politics.