Employers’ group the CBI will today use its annual conference in London to make the case for continued membership of the European Union.
It argues that Britain can best benefit from increased global trade flows from inside the economic bloc, and will present research that says each household in Britain benefits from membership to the tune of £3,000 a year.
The CBI is the latest group to come out in favour of EU membership – while arguing for a renegotiation of Britain’s role – as industry prepares for the in-out referendum promised by David Cameron if the Conservatives win the general election in 18 months.
A survey found that eight out of 10 CBI members, including 77 per cent of small and medium-sized firms, said they would vote for Britain to remain in the EU if the referendum was held tomorrow. That is despite drawbacks such as creeping regulation and waning competitiveness. “We have looked beyond the political rhetoric to examine the pros and cons of EU membership, and British business is unequivocal; the single market is fundamental to our future,” said John Cridland, the director-general of the CBI. “But the EU isn’t perfect and there is a growing unease about the creeping extension of EU authority. Europe has to become more open, competitive and outward looking if we are to grow and create opportunities and jobs for all our citizens.”
Research for the CBI found that EU membership contributed 4-5 per cent of gross domestic product, or £62-78bn, a year. The report said that Britain benefits from access to a European market of 500m people, which has also helped to cement London as a top financial services destination. But it has suffered from lack of control over regulations such as the Working Time Directive and onerous health and safety rules.
As EU members such as Germany and France examine a banking union and closer federal ties, the CBI recommends modernising the single market. It suggests implementing a market for services and striking trade deals with the US and Japan.
Alternative routes, such as breaking away to follow the model of Norway or Switzerland, or going it alone with the World Trade Organisation, would be likely to reduce influence and increase tariffs, it adds.
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