James Moore: CBI right to be jittery over European exit


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The Independent Online

There’s a risk in the CBI entering the European debate. Britain is in a sullen and surly mood  right now.

Its citizens aren’t particularly receptive to being lectured by big and wealthy businesses, or their trade bodies, at the best of times. Now is not the best of times, with a flatlining economy, a national mood of profound discontent and the perception that big business equals tax cheat.

All the same, its intervention is necessary. The Europhobic populists are putting across an argument that holds that this country will suddenly turn into the land of milk and honey if we just have the courage say yah boo to Brussels and its bureaucrats.

It is, of course, a fantasy. Except those on the wildest of Ukip’s fringes, no one wants out of the European Economic Area. Or the European single market. Because quitting those would be suicidal economically.

So, unless this country can secure an exemption (good luck with that), it is pretty much stuck with the requirements that go with being part of them. For example, the free movement of European people, including all those pesky Bulgarians and Romanians.

In quitting, however, we would have much less influence over how regulations on that, and on many other issues, operate in practice.

We would lose influence over how the single market is shaped, and how it works. Brussels could afford to ignore Britain’s foot-stomping, and would be free to introduce all sorts of things to that market which Britain might not like. That is why the CBI is getting very nervous.

It would rather have us in Europe and fighting than sitting on the outside and sulking. It has a point.