Sorrell, Branson and co blast PM Cameron over EU referendum – have it now and get it over with!

Sirs Martin Sorrell and Richard Branson and sundry other business luminaries have written to the Financial Times blasting tbe UK PM’s plans to hold a referendum on Britain’s EU membership. This is scheduled after the next General Election, which David Cameron is unlikely to win – but never mind.

These Tory-supporting business types make you laugh – didn’t they realise that the Tory Party includes a sizeable rump of anti-Europe headbangers? Some reports say half the cabinet comes into this category. Or can’t these business types remember as far back as John Major’s administration of the early 90s when the anti-Maastricht Treaty mob reduced the then government to constant in-fighting? Much like now, of course.

Anyway here’s the letter.

Britain needs to lead in a strong, reformed EU

From Mr Roland Rudd, Sir Richard Branson and others.

Sir, We welcome David Cameron’s decision to focus on the EU’s importance to Britain in his planned speech later this month.

The EU remains home to half our exports and is the most powerful trading bloc in the world. Other EU member states are the main source and destination of foreign direct investment into and from the UK, accounting for about half of our investment.

The prime minister is to be congratulated for setting his sights on an ambitious EU-US trade deal. Benefits to EU members are estimated at around £53bn. The US is keen to see a strong UK in a strong Europe, fearing a weaker Britain on the sidelines of a more protectionist EU.

Mr Cameron is right to dismiss the idea of the UK emulating Norway or Switzerland. On average, Norwegians each pay €70 a year for the luxury of having to implement EU single market rules over which they have no say as they have no representation in the European Commission, Council, Court or Parliament. In 2011, Norway paid 79 per cent per person of what the UK paid.

Switzerland has an even worse deal as it has no agreement with the EU on services. This is despite spending more than 10 years negotiating 120 separate agreements with the EU. Of the UK’s annual tax revenues, £25bn is estimated to be vulnerable because it comes from mobile activity easily moved out of the UK. Spending 10 years trying to negotiate similar deals for the UK might eventually save some of our industries for goods but would seriously damage our world-leading exports of financial, legal and accounting services.

We urgently need more EU reform, not least of the working time directive and the antiquated EU budget, and completion of the single market in services such as digital, telecoms and energy. Britain should be forthright in seeking the lead to achieve these changes. But equally, we must be very careful not to call for a wholesale renegotiation of our EU membership, which would almost certainly be rejected.

To call for such a move in these circumstances would be to put our membership of the EU at risk and create damaging uncertainty for British business, which are the last things the prime minister would want to do. We need a strong reformed EU with Britain at the heart of it.

Roland Rudd, Chairman, Business for New Europe
Sir Richard Branson, Founder, Virgin Group
Sir Roger Carr, President, CBI
Lord Davies of Abersoch, Chairman, Corsair Capital
Chris Gibson-Smith, Chairman, London Stock Exchange
Gerry Grimstone, Chairman, TheCityUK
Jan du Plessis, Chairman, Rio Tinto
Sir Michael Rake, Chairman, BT
Sir Martin Sorrell, Chief Executive, WPP
Malcolm Sweeting, Senior Partner, Clifford Chance

That’ll learn ‘im.

Those supposedly in the know say that Cameron has no desire whatsoever to leave the EU, he’s just trying to string his party along, hoping the issue will go away if and when the British economy ever recovers.

But others are not so minded, most notably London mayor Boris Johnson who is the favourite to succeed Cameron and clearly willing to do anything to get the keys to Downing Street.

But are EU supporters right to state continually that a referendum on European membership would be a disaster? The last one was in 1975, shortly after the UK joined, and it ended in a rousing defeat for the anti-Europe mob. Who’s to say the same wouldn’t happen this time round?

Surely it would be much better to have a referendum sooner rather than later and decide the matter either way, once and for all? The way things are at the moment you couldn’t blame the Europeans if they took the initiative and just kicked the fractious Brits out.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.