January 24, 2013 11:00 am

Business chiefs show backing for Cameron

Business leaders including the chief executive of the London Stock Exchange and the chairman of Standard Chartered have backed the British prime minister’s plan for a referendum on EU membership.

In a letter to The Times, 56 industry and City leaders said they agreed with David Cameron that Britain’s “best chance of success is as part of a reformed Europe”.

Signatories joining Xavier Rolet of the LSE and Sir John Peace of Standard Chartered included Paul Walsh, chief executive of Diageo, Mick Davis, chief executive of Xstrata, and Sir Simon Robertson, chairman of Rolls-Royce. They said business faces “ever more burdens from Brussels”.

“This is the moment to push for a more flexible, competitive EU that would bring jobs and growth for all member states,” they wrote. “That means completing the single market and quashing the culture of red tape.”

Mr Cameron said he wanted to extend the single market to services, digital and energy sectors in his speech on Wednesday, when he announced plans for an “in/out” referendum once he had renegotiated Britain’s position in the union.

The business leaders said Mr Cameron was right to try to reform the EU from within and that his European policy would be “good for business and good for jobs in Britain”.

“We need a new relationship with the EU, backed by democratic mandate,” they said in a wholehearted endorsement of Mr Cameron’s speech.

The long-awaited speech was well-received by the Conservative party but other British parties were more cautious, warning that creating uncertainty over the UK’s place in the 27-nation bloc could deter investment.

Other business people have reacted warily to the plan, expressing concerns that the UK could lose its access to the single market and its voice on issues such as competition rules.

Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of advertising group WPP, said the move “added another reason why people will postpone investment decisions”.

European leaders have also warned a British exit could damage the economy, with Laurent Fabius, France’s foreign minister, saying France would “roll out the red carpet” to fleeing business people if Britain left the EU.

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