Cameron’s “No Brexit” campaign wins top business support as Tory front breaks

David Cameron UK EU Council

David Cameron, UK’s Prime Minister, during the last EU Council (TV Newsroom European Council, 20/02/2016)

A few days ago, a bit after London’s Mayor Boris Johnson openly declared his support for a “Brexit”, UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron’s campaign to keep Britain inside the European Union won a priceless boost. Last Thursday, the chairman of the manufacturers’ organisation EEF, Martin Temple, said Brexit would lead to an “abyss of uncertainty and risk” and “no tangible benefits”.

An abyss of risk

Speaking at the EEF’s annual dinner, Temple laid out the economic and political argument for staying in the EU, saying the UK politician should lead the drive to reform the EU from within. “The EU is a useful whipping post for populists but the facts of our economic lives in Britain are European”, said Mr. Temple. “The job of our elected politicians is to commit themselves to using the power and influence they have to make it work better, rather than make excuses about the limitations they face, and simply giving up and taking us out into an abyss of uncertainty and risk”, he also declared.

Mr. Temple also spoke about the attractiveness of the UK as part of the EU, and the potential risk for the country to lose both foreign investment and high-skill jobs, should it leave the bloc: “In short, the great risk of leaving is that our country would be economically poorer”, he said. “Being in the EU gives us certainty, whereas those who argue we should leave can only offer uncertainty and risk with few, if any, real tangible benefits. The risk our companies might be less prosperous, the jobs of the people who work for them less secure, their future pension worth less.”

Top corporate bosses’ letter

The very clear words by EEF’S Temple came only days after Mr. Cameron’s “In” campaign won another precious endorsement, when bosses at more than a third of the companies in the FTSE 100 have signed a letter in support of the UK’s continued membership of the EU.

The letter, published at the Times , contained the signatures of some of Britain’s top corporate bosses and praised Cameron’s agreement with his EU counterparts in Brussels a few days ago. “Following the prime minister’s renegotiation, we believe that Britain is better off staying in a reformed European Union”, the letter said. “He has secured a commitment from the EU to reduce the burden of regulation, deepen the single market and to sign off crucial international trade deals”.

All industries are included in the letter, ranging from retail and media to manufacturing and energy, in an attempt to show that not only City banks support the idea of a UK within the European Union. GlaxoSmithKline, easyJet, Barclays, BAE Systems, BT and Shell are among the companies that signed the document, which together employ “more than 1 million people across the country”, as the letter reads.

A “stronger” Britain

“Business needs unrestricted access to the European market of 500 million people in order to continue to grow, invest and create jobs. We believe that leaving the EU would deter investment and threaten jobs: it would put the economy at risk”, they said. “Britain will be stronger, safer and better off remaining a member of the European Union,” the letter concluded.

The words by EEF’s leader Martin Temple and the letter by FTSE 100 leaders are together a big sign on how important the Brexit question is of UK businesses and not only. A survey by the Institute of Directors also shows that 60 per cent of its members support remaining in Europe, although there’s a consistent part of British company which has not yet entered the “field”.

Not everyone is “In” though

The letter is indeed missing signatures from retail giants Tesco and Sainsbury’s, which have said that the decision should be made by the British people alone. Supermarket Morrisons, which is no longer on the FTSE 100 anyway, has also not signed the letter. Sainsbury’s wanted to say that it was an “apolitical organization” and the vote on Europe was a “matter for the British people.”

The letter is also missing signatures from the bosses of two major UK banks. Lloyds Banking Group and Barclays bank both declined to sign the letter. Moreover, Chairman of Lloyds Banking, Lord Blackwell, said the EU referendum was “ultimately a matter for the British people.”

A strong political matter

On a  political level, the Brexit is becoming an enormous point of contention for the UK day after day, especially inside the Conservative Party. Indeed Mr. Cameron’s announcement first, and Mayor Johnson then opened a strong debate in the country which have widely dominated the UK media during last week, and that was not all. The shockwaves generated by the FTSE 100 leaders’ letter came only days before George Osborne, British conservative Finance Minister, openly pushed financial leaders from the top 20 economies (G20) to include the risk of a Brexit in their list of dangers to the world economy.

The day before the Times published the letter by FTSE 100 leaders, Mr. Cameron also shook lawmakers with very strong words indeed. He said the UK economy would undoubtedly suffer should the country leave the EU, and also opened for geo-political risks, as the UK would be “less secure” against threats from Russia and terrorism. As Bloomberg reports, he said the agreements he had reached on welfare, excluding Britain from “ever closer union” and protecting the interests of the country outside the euro would improve Britain’s relationship with the bloc.

BoJo’s “No” point

Mayor Johnson did not like PM Cameron’s speech, and that was clearly exhibited in his column at the Telegraph. “There is only one way to get the change we need – and that is to vote to go”, Mayor Johnson wrote. “All EU history shows that they only really listen to a population when it says ‘No’”, Mr. Johnson added. “This is the only opportunity we will ever have to show that we care about self-rule. A vote to ‘Remain’ will be taken in Brussels as a green light for more federalism, and for the erosion of democracy”.

A big Tory question

The question is more than open inside the Tories, which are living days of turmoil. PM Cameron openly defended the deal he finally managed to get from the EU, and promised a special membership: “Our special status means that Britain can have the best of both worlds. In the parts of Europe that work for us, influencing the decisions that affect us. But we will be out of the parts of Europe that don’t work for us”. Most of the Conservatives are said to be happy with what PM Cameron has negotiated with the EU, although that doesn’t seem to be enough to calm down the thirst for a total freedom.

The proud words by London Mayor Johnson, who spoke about a Britain that has “spent 500 years trying to stop continental European powers uniting against us”, surely offers food for thought and inspiration also for the non-“Brexit” backers.

However, it seems that at least for now all the threats concerning the UK economy being left outside of the EU echo too loud.

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