Matthew Elliott is Chief Executive of Business for Britain.
Reform of the EU is something that is often talked about but rarely defined. For EU supporters it is too often just a soundbite to be deployed to appear open to change, while too many Eurosceptics have been unable to define what changes would make remaining ‘In’ a worthwhile option. This ambiguity creates a vacuum within which political spin rather than political substance can too easily triumph. In the 1975 EU Referendum modest changes to the way the EU did business were presented as big reforms and a victory for Harold Wilson. If we are going to talk about EU reform we need clarity on what that reform should actually look like so the public can judge what we can, and do, achieve.
For those worrying that this is a distraction, I’m sorry to say that we simply can’t afford to put off debates about what EU reform should be until after the election. If David Cameron is re-elected on May 7th, a renegotiation of our relationship with the EU may start the following day, or it may form part of coalition negations. Even an Ed Miliband victory in May could involve a new deal with the EU , if the Eurozone crisis continues and makes treaty change inevitable.
Against this background Business for Britain has today published The Change we need: a list of reforms needed to solve the problems with the UK’s relationship with the EU. You can read the full publication here but the ten clear changes needed are:
The Change we need sets out ten substantial reforms which will increase the competitiveness of the EU and secure a better deal for Britain. The changes proposed are not about tinkering at the edges, nor are they merely calls for implementation of the EU’s existing reform agenda as some business campaigns wishing to remain ‘in at all costs’ default to. The list is not exhaustive, and we would welcome feedback on non-business issues that should be addressed – I’m sure many readers see justice and home affairs as issues that require renegotiation. Nor are the changes arbitrary, they are in response to problems identified by Business for Britain in our previous publications and research including Change, or go which has become the default position for many senior politicians. The list has been compiled following polling, consultations with BfB members and discussions with other organisations involved in the EU debate, and includes recommendations from across all the main parties.
Some of the key changes set out in our new pamphlet include proposals to increase the ability of national parliaments to block harmful EU laws, as well as measures to truly open up the EU to trade across the world and to protect the status of the UK as a non-Eurozone member. Taken together, they represent an ambitious blueprint for a new deal with the EU which both business and the wider electorate can support.
In addition to getting behind the proposals in The Change we need, it is equally important that all the political parties include a commitment to an In/Out referendum in their forthcoming election manifestos. The CBI and Labour figures are wrong to suggest that business opposes an EU referendum – independent polling has shown that two-thirds of businesses, as well as a large majority of voters, support this policy. Furthermore, as we announced last November, over 1,000 business leaders now back Business for Britain’s campaign for a substantive renegotiation backed up by a referendum.
A clear pledge to hold a referendum on the results of any future renegotiation offers the best prospect of securing the far-reaching change backed by a majority of voters and business leaders. Yesterday’s ConservativeHome survey of its readers’ views on the EU suggest that reforms such as these would be required should David Cameron wish to secure grassroots support for his renegotiation settlement.
It is vital that Britain secures a substantive and ambitious new deal with the EU that protects our status outside the Eurozone and allows the UK to take better advantage of the strong growth currently being seen across other parts of the global economy. The Change we need provides a clear measure against which both business and voters can judge the success of any future renegotiation. With the General Election fast approaching, it is now time for all political parties to get behind proposals for substantive change in Britain’s relationship with the EU, backed up by an In/Out referendum, to secure the better deal that Britain needs.