Cameron Insists He's Not in a Hurry to Get EU Renegotiation Deal

'Brexit': A ‘Lose-Lose Game’ for U.K. and Europe?
  • Prime Minister says he's still optimistic about February talks
  • GlaxoSmithKline, Goldman Sachs Group want Britain in EU

Prime Minister David Cameron said he’s “not in a hurry” to do a deal on Britain’s membership of the European Union as he tried to reassure business leaders concerned at the prospect of Britain quitting the bloc.

The premier said he’s confident of reaching agreement at February’s EU summit, but added that he is prepared to wait if the offer isn’t right. He spoke the day after Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond became the most senior U.K. cabinet minister to indicate that the referendum may be held as soon as June.

David Cameron in Davos
David Cameron in Davos
Photographer: Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg

“I want to confront this issue, I want to deal with it, I want to put the question to the British people,” Cameron told an event at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Thursday. “If there isn’t the right deal, I’m not in a hurry, I can hold my referendum at any time until the end of 2017.”

As Cameron prepares the ground to announce an agreement next month and start the legislative process needed for the referendum, he is being careful to avoid the appearance that his renegotiation is too carefully choreographed. At the same time, the main message from businesses at Davos has been that Britain leaving the EU would jeopardize its economy.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and GlaxoSmithKline Plc both rallied behind the push to keep Britain in the bloc on Thursday. Andrew Witty, chief executive officer of GlaxoSmithKline, said in a Bloomberg TV interview that EU membership has brought “fragmented, independent, not-talking-to-each-other” regulators together in a single agency.

“They are are drawing resources from all member states, it is an incredibly sophisticated, capable organization” on a par with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Witty said. “That’s a big win, and so for us that is probably the most important aspect of being part of the EU. We think it is a very important benefit.”

Goldman Donation

According to a person familiar with the matter, Goldman Sachs Group donated hundreds of thousands of pounds to the campaign to keep the U.K. inside the EU. The contribution was made to the Britain Stronger in Europe group and is the latest sign that the banking industry is fighting a British exit from the EU amid concern it would jeopardize London’s role as a global financial center.

“We are not going to discuss individual donations at this stage,” said James McGrory, chief campaign spokesman for the group. “We are pleased that we have gathered donations from a wide range of individuals and businesses who believe that Britain is stronger, safer and better off in Europe.”

Goldman Sachs leaders including Chief Executive Office Lloyd Blankfein and President Gary Cohn previously have said it would be best for the U.K. to remain in the EU. Michael DuVally, a company spokesman, declined to comment on the donation, which was reported earlier on Wednesday by Sky News.

Campaigners for exit were dismissive. “The establishment is clearly lining up behind those who want to stay in the EU at all costs,” said Matthew Elliot, chief executive of Vote Leave. “Big banks and big corporates do well out of the status quo in the EU but it is the U.K.’s smaller businesses who get hit the hardest.”

The U.K. car industry is also opposed to abandoning the world’s largest trading bloc. Phil Swash, head of GKN Plc’s car division, told reporters Wednesday night that Brexit could hurt his unit’s revenues of about 4 billion pounds ($4.4 billion) a year, since only 200 million pounds came from U.K. sales.

Cameron Optimism

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said it would be a “catastrophe” if the U.K. left. “I hope the Britons decide to stay,” he told a panel in the Swiss ski resort.

The topic of Brexit has already proved a subject of conversation in Davos with Siemens AG CEO Joe Kaeser urging the U.K. to back continued membership.

“It would be a real loss for a powerful Europe to be built if it was built without the U.K. resources,” he told Bloomberg Television. “It’s all doable, but it would be more desirable if you had the U.K. being a strong part of Europe.”

Goldman Sachs’s intervention in the Brexit debate is just the latest from within the City of London, as the U.K.’s financial district is known. Barclays Plc Chairman John McFarlane told Bloomberg last week that Britain’s financial industry would be damaged if the country left the EU and that the debate already had repelled some foreign investment.

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