Labour's support of Europe could be its biggest selling point to businesses who know the importance of an open market
Last night Labour’s business secretary Chuka Umunna addressed the CBI President’s dinner, and issued a stark warning about Britain’s role in the EU. He said:
“Britain succeeds when it looks outwards and to the future, not inwards and to the past. Our success has come not by looking backwards or by being closed to new ideas – but from being an open, self-confident nation, believing we can compete with the best in the world and knowing that our best days lie ahead.
“Britain is best when it leads. Not just in Europe, but leading Europe. Sulky victimhood and obstruction – seeing problems not opportunities – are bad tactics, worse strategy and not in keeping with our history.
“Britain should be leading reform to get the EU economy moving, to complete the single market, and as a platform for leadership in the world. That’s the truth, that is what is at stake for Britain, and that is why we are fighting so hard to win this election.”
Mr Umunna is one of the most vocally pro-European MPs in the Labour party. Labour’s support of continued EU membership is seen by many as the the party’s strongest selling point to business, after criticism from business leaders made for a shaky start to the election period. In November Mr Umunna told Radio 4 that the belief that all of Britain’s problems are all down to Europe is “a complete and utter con”.
The temptation to lay all the blame outside Britain is in part what has facilitated Nigel Farage’s ascent into mainstream politics. But senior business figures have warned of the enormous cost of leaving the EU, both for businesses and for UK households. John Cridland, director general of the CBI, told the Financial Times(£) that the business case for freedom of movement within Europe was being ‘drowned out’ by anti-immigration voices, and said that CBI research suggested that each the EU benefit to each UK household was around £3,000 a year.
Cridland added that he had never “come across a CBI member company that isn’t reliant in one way or another on the single market of labour”.
Meanwhile Roland Rudd, chairman of Business for New Europe, warned last week that a Brexit would mean tariffs and quotas, and business being forced to re-locate to the EU in order to continue trading. He also said it was “undeniable” that several million jobs are linked to Britain’s EU membership.
Boris Johnson commissioned a report last year that warned that leaving Europe could result in 1.2 million job losses in London alone. Millions of livelihoods depend on our remaining in the EU, and by being part of a group of like-minded countries it is easier for the UK to maintain a liberal approach to trade. Europe is our nearest and biggest market, and it anchors British business in a globalised economy.
As new economies like Asia and Latin America look to develop partnerships, they will have their eyes on the EU and not a small, isolated UK. The head of the EU commission Jose Manuel Barroso has emphasised that the UK’s global business position will be ‘marginal’ if it chooses to leave Europe, as well as warning that its ability to deal with threats such as that from Russia will be diminished if it stands alone.
The ‘anti-business’ argument continues to be thrown at Labour – most absurdly, Conservative party Grant Shapps tweeted that “Labour just hate business” as a ‘response’ to criticism that he had lied about having a second job. Remaining part of the EU is crucial for the growth of business in the UK, and Labour need to keep shouting louder about their commitment to it.
Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter
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