EIGHT out of 10 British firms would vote to stay inside the European Union because it is “overwhelmingly” in the UK’s national interest, the president of the CBI told the business lobby group’s annual conference.
Sir Mike Rake said the EU is the gateway to trade with Britain’s closest partners, a springboard to the rest of the world and a route to better living standards.
“We should not be fooled - by withdrawing from Europe we do not somehow become more open to trade elsewhere. Instead we turn inwards, going against the grain of an increasingly connected world,” he said.
He said Britain faces a choice between two “very different futures”.
“One, in which we risk looking inward, shutting ourselves off from the world in the face of inevitable global change and where we reject the power of free and competitive markets to drive progress.
“The other, in which we embrace the openness which has always been the foundation of Britain’s success - to trade, to people, to investment and to ideas from abroad, and of competitive markets at home.”
Sir Mike said research showed that eight out of 10 CBI members, large and small, would vote to stay in the EU, although there is a need for the EU to be reformed.
“This agenda must be ambitious, but has to be achievable, benefiting the whole of the EU, not just a special deal for Britain. We have many allies in business and government across Europe who share our aspirations for reform.”
However Business for Britain, which supports EU renegotiation followed by an In/Out referendum, disagreed.
Alan Halsall, co-chairman of Business for Britain, said: “The CBI leadership is out of touch with the views of British Business, just like it was when it campaigned for the UK to join the euro.
“We need a new deal from the EU and blithely advocating remaining in the EU won’t deliver the changes we need.
“The best way of securing reform is through a renegotiation backed up by an EU Referendum which is why the majority of business leaders back a vote, something CBI bosses have consistently failed to do.”