Businesses want the UK to stay in Europe; will MPs listen?
Posted on 20 May 2013
The political debate about the UK’s membership of the European Union (EU) shows no sign of abating. Indeed every indication points to things getting a good deal more fraught in the weeks to come.
Some Conservative ministers are putting a brave face on it, arguing that the party is ‘united’ over the issue, in which case I’d hate to know what they would regard as the party being ‘divided’ over something amounted to. 'Swivel-eyed loons', anyone?
Anyway, after weeks of anti-EU sentiment from Eurosceptic MPs and former Tory chancellors some UK business leaders have now put the case for the country ‘staying put’ in Europe.
While MPs and others argue the toss for a referendum on the UK’s membership now or in four years’ time I thought it worth asking some people on the other side of the Channel about how they see their own countries participation in the EU.
Speaking with some European industry observers last week it is clear that there is a perception gap between many in the UK and on the Continent about what it means to be a member of the European club.
“You regard being a part of Europe as being driven by economics,” said one individual, who hails from Denmark. “We see it as a social thing.” Others, from different countries, argued much the same thing.
True, I don’t know how widely such views are held. And let’s not forget that countries like France and Germany have their own ‘Eurosceptic’ types, clamouring for the exit.
But many in the UK who are ‘pro-European’ do appear to see the country’s relationship with the EU purely in terms of economic gain and loss; social edicts from Brussels find less favour than does the lure of a market potentially worth billions of pounds.
As Conservative MPs of both pro- and anti-EU persuasion battled each other with increasing verve I found myself agreeing with Norman, now Lord, Fowler, the former Tory transport and health secretary, when he said that it “defied belief” that the party should be fighting itself over the issue of Europe at a time when most of the UK electorate had far more important things to worry about.
However, what MPs and ex-ministers on either side of the argument have to say matters less than good old fashioned ‘pounds, shillings and pence’.
The message from UK business to David Cameron and his coalition government seems to be: fine, renegotiate and sort out once and for all the UK’s relationship with Brussels; retain sovereignty and key elements of UK law and our (unwritten) constitution, but for heaven’s sake – and that of the country’s economic well-being – stay in the EU ‘tent’.
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