Political wrangling over an EU referendum is taking focus away from the UK’s “top priority” of jobs and growth, the CBI chief will warn on Friday.
In a speech to the British American Business Council, John Cridland will say demands for a Bill to underpin David Cameron’s promise of an in/out vote on Europe is an “unnecessary distraction” from the real issues affecting our economy.
“For those of us in the business world, it feels like a diversion from what we should be doing in Europe, which is restoring growth, through trade deals, and championing the reforms that we want to see,” Mr Cridland will claim.
“These issues matter to the public too because their primary concerns are about the economy, jobs, and the cost of living. So for business and the public, it’s economic growth that matters. Growth at home and abroad.”
Mr Cridland, who represents 240,000 UK businesses, believes this two-way growth can only be realised if the UK is a key part of Europe, not at the fringes like Norway.
“Norway’s membership of the European Economic Area [EEA] – being outside the EU but part of the Single Market – means it still pays the bills and follows the rules but has much lower influence on EU decision making than if it had a seat at the table.
“The Norwegian Conservative MP, Nikolai Astrup, said to my team: ‘If the UK wants to run Europe, it needs to be in Europe. If you want to be run by Europe, feel free to join us in the EEA.’”
Mr Cridland will warn that already struggling British companies may not survive without access to “our primary market”. These business need to trade with Europe and, subsequently, the rest of the world, he will add.
“We must maximise the potential of being part of the biggest market in the world - the EU single market - which remains the destination for nearly half our exports and will continue to be fundamental to our economy for many years to come.
“Demand for the goods and services which the UK is best at producing will continue to be greater in other highly developed economies. It’s not an either/or relationship - we need trade with Europe and the rest of the world. And that means retaining access to the Single Market.”