GOVERNMENT must avoid an exit vote in any EU referendum, the UK’s most prominent business lobby said yesterday, in order to preserve trade links with its “old friends” on the continent.
“Whilst we look for new partners, we must not forget old friends,” said Sir Roger Carr, president of the Confederation of British Industry, in his speech to the industry group’s annual conference yesterday morning.
“Europe, however challenged, remains home for half our exports…it is the bedrock of our international trade. It should be viewed as the launch-pad from which our global trade can expand – not the landmass from which we retreat.”
His pro-EU line was firmly embraced by Ed Miliband, leader of the opposition, who said that leaving the supranational body would leave the UK without a seat at the negotiating table. “I will not let Britain sleepwalk toward exit from the European Union,” he promised.
But the Labour leader said that he understood sceptics’ issues with the bloc, and slammed it for its attempts to increase its budget despite difficult austerity across member countries.
As well as keeping the UK firmly part of the EU, Sir Roger also called on the government to pursue a vigorous industry policy, to radically reform schools to give students a more robust and well-rounded education, and to continue travelling around the world to extol the virtues of UK Plc.
This came in a speech where Sir Roger made a forceful case for the role of business in society. “We must stop saying all energy companies rip you off – when they don’t – all bankers are despicable, when they are not – or big business is bad business, when it isn’t,” he said.
Carr said that business has to salvage its stature by demonstrating it is “focused not just on how much money we make – but how we make money”.
But he slated businesses and figures that had dragged its reputation through the mud, giving commentators a free hand to “tar all with the same brush – and to poison the minds of many as to the value of business in society”.