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London Lord Mayor Warns of Cost as Tories Moot EU Exit

Lord Mayor of London Fiona Woolf
Lord Mayor of London Fiona Woolf speaks during an interview in London, on Feb. 13, 2013. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

The head of the City of London authority said the threat of U.K. exit from the European Union is a “sword of Damocles” creating uncertainty for business, a day before a conference to debate changes to the bloc.

Fiona Woolf, the lord mayor of the capital’s financial district, called for Britain to be at the heart of a reformed, more competitive EU, saying London “values being the gateway to the single market.”

Lawmakers from Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party who back his plan to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the EU are holding a two-day conference in London, starting tomorrow, to discuss how to achieve change. Cameron then wants to put continued EU membership to a referendum in late 2017 if he’s re-elected next year.

“The city is pro-single market, pro-reform,” Woolf said in an interview today from Taiwan, where she’s leading a business delegation. “We believe that the U.K. can play a crucial role in reforming the single market to help Europe succeed together.”

Changes to the 28-nation bloc should “make Europe more competitive by completing the single market in services, creating a pro-business environment that supports entrepreneurs by cutting red tape, and making the EU far more efficient,” she said.

‘Vocal Campaign’

Woolf said the City of London is preparing a “vocal campaign” in the event of a referendum to halt the threat of an exit and is analyzing how the U.K. would be worse off out of the EU. She called on Cameron to lead a “calm, effective and in-control” campaign to promote continued membership.

The Confederation of British Industry lobby group argues the net benefit to the U.K. of membership is as much as 78 billion pounds ($128 billion) a year, with individuals 1,225 pounds a year better off, according to figures published late last year.

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne will make the keynote address to the conference tomorrow, arguing Britain should remain in a reformed EU and focus on building its economic relationship with the euro-zone nations.

Veto Sought

Some in the Conservative Party are pushing for complete withdrawal from the EU. Two days ago, about 100 rank-and-file Tory lawmakers wrote to the premier asking for a parliamentary veto over all EU regulations, something incompatible with Britain’s current membership.

Andrea Leadsom, a Conservative lawmaker who’s the co-founder of the Fresh Start Project which is co-hosting the conference, said in an interview that talks on repatriating powers might be helped by a vote by the British public to leave the bloc.

As lord mayor, Woolf represents City businesses and helps advise the government on financial services. The position, which is held for one year, is unpaid and traditionally apolitical.

In its submission to the government’s review of the division of powers with the EU, the City of London argued that membership of the bloc is one of the major reasons for foreign direct investment in the U.K., amounting to $570 billion between 2006 and 2010.

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