UK Politics

Sajid Javid urges business not to decide yet on EU vote

Sajid Javid Image copyright Reuters

Sajid Javid has urged business groups to help the government get a better deal for the UK in the EU by not making up their minds on the referendum yet.

In a speech on Monday the business secretary said the CBI wanted Britain to stay in the EU "no matter what".

Mr Javid said the lobby group, which represents some of the UK's biggest businesses, was undermining David Cameron's EU reform negotiations.

He asked the group to make the case for reform to European businesses instead.

He told MPs on Tuesday: "The point I made yesterday wasn't just about the CBI but really was a call to all business groups that in order to get the EU reforms that many of them seek...

"The best way to do that is to help the government with its negotiations, speak to their partners in other countries in Europe and then make up their mind at the end of that process."

The CBI's outgoing president Sir Mike Rake last month urged businesses to defend Britain's EU membership.

'Poker face'

He said it was time for business to "turn up the volume" on the benefits of EU membership ahead of Britain's in/out referendum, due to be held before the end of 2017.

But in a speech to a CBI dinner on Monday evening, Mr Javid accused the group of having a "poor poker face".

He said: "We're negotiating a better deal for Britain in Europe. I know this is something the CBI wants to see.

"You have never been shy about highlighting the ways in which the EU hampers and undermines British business. So imagine my surprise last month [when]... I heard that the CBI thinks the UK should remain in the European Union no matter what.

"That the people of Britain should vote to stay in regardless of whether or not the prime minister wins the concessions that British business so badly needs.

"Of course you're entirely free to come to that conclusion. But does it really make sense to say, so early in the process, that the rules of this club need to change, but don't worry - we'll always be members no matter what.

Image copyright JCB
Image caption JCB has led calls from British business to leave the EU

"You're some of Britain's most respected, most successful business leaders. You know how negotiation works.

"You wouldn't sit down at the start of a merger or acquisition and, like a poker player showing his hand to the table, announce exactly what terms you were prepared to accept. It doesn't work in the boardroom and it won't work in Brussels."

The minister's comments come as the CBI announced that Carolyn Fairbairn, a former head of strategy at the BBC and ITV, is to to replace John Cridland as its director general in November. She will be the first women to head the organisation, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.

The CBI published a report in 2013 saying it was in Britain's interest to remain in the trading bloc. A poll suggested eight out of 10 CBI members backed that position but the organisation has come under fire from some for not fully representing the views of Eurosceptic firms.

The chairman of construction equipment firm JCB, Lord Bamford, recently said the UK should not fear an exit from the EU.

A CBI spokesman said: "The CBI backs the prime minister's agenda for a more competitive EU and believes ambitious but achievable reforms can be secured, with some progress already made in recent months on a digital single market and business regulation.

"We have engaged with senior business and political figures across Europe in recent years and it's clear we have allies in Europe to deliver more jobs and growth.

"Most CBI members are clear that the EU gives us access to 500 million consumers and helps set the global trade agenda. But reform must be an ongoing process and we support the government's push for Brussels to focus on the big ticket issues, like signing more trade deals and doing less where it doesn't add value."

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