Formidable alliance against Euro-sceptics

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The Independent Online
Kenneth Clarke was preaching to the converted when he refused to dance to the Euro-sceptic tune at last night's European Movement dinner. His views are shared by the vast bulk of big business in this country. Coincidentally, the same message was b eing delivered by Howard Davies, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, at a rather less prestigious dinner in Norwich Both speeches are broadly in tune with the views of Eddie George, the Governor of the Bank of England, whose pragmatic, cautious, but fundamentally positive attitude - in the long term - towards monetary union was spelt out a few days ago.

Mr Clarke's speech was heavy on practical examples of how Britain has influenced the rest of the community, how it has pressed to free up markets and how the British government was crucial in turning the single market into reality quickly.

Mr Davies, by contrast, underlined business's preoccupation with the hard slog of seeing through the enlargement of Europe, completing the single market, reforming competition policy, putting a bomb under the eurocrats to improve their efficiency, improving the accountability of the European parliament, and dealing with changes in social and environment policy.

The risk of withdrawing from Europe was threefold: loss of access to markets that take 60 per cent of our exports; a reduction in foreign investment in the UK, and the probability that we would be obliged, in practice, "still to dance to the European Union tune, while not being included in the orchestra".

He was cautious about the single currency, pointing out that only a quarter of his members thought it was necessary for a single market - though at the other extreme only a small proportion thought it would be positively damaging for business. Only 12 per cent were definitely against joining if a core group around Germany went ahead, leaving others behind.

For business the issue is very much a practical one, like the single market, which will have to be argued and tested as we go. Why decide now, when there is not a snowball's chance in Hades of most European countries meeting the necessary convergence criteria within the foreseeable future. The Chancellor, the Governor and business make a formidable alliance against the died-in-the-wool Euro-sceptics.