Photographer: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg

CBI Joins EU Business Lobby Groups Urging U.K. to Stay in Bloc

  • German, French, Italian business groups want U.K. to remain
  • BCC poll shows 60% of business leaders would vote to stay

The Confederation of British Industry joined with 21 counterparts in other European Union nations in urging Britain to remain in the bloc, putting the heft of more than 2.5 million businesses behind the “stay” campaign.

“European business strongly supports continued British membership of a European Union that takes the necessary reforms to be competitive, outward-looking and continue delivering growth, jobs, peace, security and prosperity for all,” business chiefs from Ireland to Poland and Finland to Malta said Wednesday in an open letter, extracts of which were released in an e-mailed statement by the CBI, the U.K.’s main business lobby group.

The letter throws the support of businesses across Europe that employ more than 50 million people behind the campaign for Britain to remain a member of the bloc. Prime Minister David Cameron plans to hold an in-out vote as soon as June if he completes a renegotiation of the U.K.’s relationship with the rest of the 28-nation bloc at a summit this week. A British Chambers of Commerce poll of more than 2,100 U.K. business leaders published on Wednesday found 60 percent would vote to remain, with 30 percent choosing to leave.

“There is a compelling shared benefit for firms to trade with no barriers inside a market of 500 million people and those crucial economic ties which connect us, creating jobs and investment, cannot be taken for granted,” said CBI Director-General Carolyn Fairbairn. “Most CBI members -- though not all -- want to stay in a reformed EU and we will consult them once again when a final deal is agreed.”

Four Demands

Cameron has made four key demands -- safeguarding the rights of countries not using the euro, cutting red tape, limiting benefits to immigrants and absolving the U.K. of a commitment to an ever-closer union. The prime minister heads to Brussels on Thursday for talks with EU leaders in a bid to finalize the package of reforms.

“A Brexit would lead to a dead end,” said Markus Kerber, director general of Germany’s BDI lobby group, referring to a U.K. departure from the EU. “Only a unified Europe will be successful on the global scene. A divided Europe will sink into oblivion. In 2050, not a single European country will remain among the nine biggest economies in the world.”

The BCC poll also found that 63 percent of respondents said the results of Cameron’s renegotiation are unlikely to sway how they vote in a referendum. Exporters were more likely to back remaining than other company chiefs, while almost three-quarters of business leaders at the biggest companies-- with more than 250 employees -- would vote to stay, compared with 54 percent for the smallest firms. BCC conducted its poll between Jan. 25 and Feb. 4 and received 2,133 responses.

The findings tally with a poll last month of 137 chief financial officers by the accountancy firm Deloitte that found 62 percent back staying in the EU, with just 6 percent supporting a departure.

The CBI’s intervention was attacked by campaigners to quit the bloc. “David Cameron’s renegotiation is little more than a trivial set of demands,” Matthew Elliott, chief executive officer of the Vote Leave group, said in an e-mailed statement. “The only way to take back control of our ability to trade, manage our economy and empower our democracy is to vote leave.”

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