Winds of change over Europe?

IMG_4868I wrote just before Christmas that it was time for more people to stand up and be counted regarding the importance of Britain’s place in Europe.  As I said then, for too long, people in positions of power and influence, particularly business leaders, have been reluctant to make it clear that the true national interest of this country lies in remaining a full member of the European Union.

And though there is by no means a long queue, there are increasing signs that the “standing up” process has begun.

Today, two national newspapers report that the heads of some of Britain’s biggest companies – including BT and Virgin – have signed an open letter saying that attempting a major change in Britain’s relationship with the EU could “create damaging uncertainty” and put off investment in the UK.

In doing so, they’ve actually gone further than merely stating that we should stay in.  Even renegotiating terms is dangerous:

We must be very careful not to call for a wholesale renegotiation of our EU membership which would almost certainly be rejected,” they say.

“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 . . .”

This very public statement comes just over a week after an article in the Telegraph which quoted a number of bankers and heads of industry outlining the costs of leaving the EU, while a report  in the influential Economist magazine described a British exit from Europe as a “reckless gamble.”

The holiday period has also seen the launch of the Centre for British Influence through Europe pressure group (in fact a re-branding of the existing organisation Nucleus), as well as the re-launch of Next Europe, yet more indications that UKIP and their fellow travellers in the Conservative Party won’t have things all their own way this year.

It remains to be seen whether David Cameron, in his key speech on Europe planned for later this month, has his backbone stiffened.   Who knows if he will stand up to Nigel Farage and UKIP, a party whose members he has previously described as “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists.”

But it may just be that – after a year when little has been heard but the arguments for the UK leaving Europe – the political wind is shifting.


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