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January 8, 2013 7:01 pm
Leading British business figures have warned David Cameron that he risks destabilising the economy inadvertently taking Britain out of the EU, if he tries to seek a “wholesale renegotiation of our EU membership”.
Mr Cameron will this month set out in a speech in the Netherlands his plan to renegotiate Britain’s membership terms and to put the final outcome to a referendum in the next parliament.
But business leaders including Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Group founder, and Chris Gibson-Smith, chairman of the London Stock Exchange, warned in a letter to the Financial Times that Mr Cameron’s renegotiation plan could fail.
In those circumstances they fear that the British public could become disillusioned and vote to leave the EU in a referendum, with damaging consequences for business.
They said that Mr Cameron is right to call for reforms to the single market, the EU budget and seek reform of the working time directive, but a more radical renegotiation “would almost certainly be rejected”.
“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, which are the last things the prime minister would want to do,” the letter says.
Other signatories are Roland Rudd, chairman of the Business for New Europe campaign group, Sir Roger Carr, CBI president, Lord Davies of Corsair Capital, Gerry Grimstone of TheCityUK, Jan du Plessis of Rio Tinto, Sir Michael Rake of BT, Sir Martin Sorrell of WPP and Malcolm Sweeting of Clifford Chance.
Mr Cameron is not expected to set out which powers he hopes to “repatriate” until closer to the election, but hinted last weekend that he might veto a new treaty on eurozone integration unless he got a good deal.
But France and Germany will resist giving Britain a special deal and even Ireland, traditionally an ally and a key trading partner, says Britain cannot pick and choose which of the “core terms” of EU membership it would accept.
Eamon Gilmore, Ireland’s deputy prime minister, said that while several countries have “from time to time” been exempt from “specific issues” within EU law, any changes in EU treaties should not allow Britain to set up a different category of membership different from other members.
“We’re either a union or we’re not. This is not going to work if we have 27 or 28 categories of membership,” said Mr Gilmore, ahead of Ireland taking on the EU’s six-month rotating presidency. “The European Union is not an à la carte menu.”
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