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04/12/2016

EU membership ‘significantly outweighs costs’, says UK’s leading business group

UK & Europe

EU membership ‘significantly outweighs costs’, says UK’s leading business group

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The CBI, the UK's leading business organisation, released a report on Monday (4 November) which concludes that the benefits of Britain's EU membership significantly outweigh the costs.

It is overwhelmingly in the UK's national interest to stay in the EU, according to the report Our Global Future: the Business Vision for a Reformed EU by the CBI, an organisation which speaks on behalf of 240,000 businesses that together employ around a third of the private sector workforce in the UK.

"We all need to know where Britain’s future lies in a changing global economy," John Cridland, the CBI director general, said in a statement.

"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."

The report stated that the EU membership is worth approximately 4-5% of UK GDP annually, or £62-78 billion (€73-93 billion), or worth £3,000 (€3,540) to every household.

Access to European markets of 500 million people for goods and services has been the single biggest positive for the British economy, but EU membership has also helped cement the UK as the world’s leading financial centre and helped attracting foreign investment, the CBI said.

British influence

The CBI report concluded that UK has been successful at "influencing the shape of the EU over the years" with a strong voice regarding the development of the single market and the EU's enlargement to more countries.

But the UK’s lack of unilateral control over some regulations, especially regarding employment laws, is causing "deep frustration" on the British islands, the CBI said, criticising the European Commission for its tendency to expand its regulatory powers to sensitive areas like health, safety and welfare legislation.

Instead, the EU should focus its energy on signing trade deals with large established markets such as the US, along with high growth emerging markets, the CBI said.

No alternative

And while the European Commission is extending its powers to fight the debt crisis in the euro area, the UK should not follow the same integration path, the CBI warned.

"I am clear that the ever closer union of the eurozone is not for Britain. The big reform issue is to ensure that Britain’s membership of the single market and the EU of the 28 does not become damaged or diluted by the eurozone’s drive for greater integration," Cridland said.

As long as these lines are not crossed, there is no realistic alternative to EU membership that can combine all the benefits of the UK’s current relationship with none of the costs, the CBI stressed. Indeed, a customs union would not be sufficient to give the access UK firms need in a complex global economy while the Norwegian or Swiss model would leave UK businesses operating under market rules over which it has little or no influence.

Positions

"The CBI's report clearly shows that the business community doesn't want to see Britain sleepwalk out of the EU," Shadow minister for Europe, Gareth Thomas, told the BBC.

"David Cameron is willing to put this at risk because his approach to Europe is based on narrow party interest, not Britain's national interest. Labour believes that a commitment to staying at the heart of the EU, along with a clear programme of deliverable reforms is the best course for Britain."

Background

A potential British exit from the European Union came to the top of the political agenda in January when Prime Minister David Cameron said that Britain must use the upheaval created by the eurozone crisis to forge a new relationship with the European Union.

>> Read: Cameron takes gamble with in/out EU referendum pledge

Britain has negotiated a number of opt-outs from key EU policy areas since its accession in 1973. The country is not part of the eurozone and has not signed the free-border Schengen Treaty and does not want to abide by a number of EU police and judicial cooperation rules.

Timeline

  • 2017: Proposed date of UK "in/out" referendum on EU membership, if David Cameron wins election in 2015.

Further Reading