by John Mills
As a committed Labour supporter who has been immersed in the political and economic arguments over Britain’s place in the European integration project for some forty years – from my role in overseeing JML expand its business beyond Britain to acting as Secretary of Labour Euro-Safeguards Campaign since 1975 – my views have evolved as the European Union has radically changed form.
There is a perception that the question of Europe is a settled one within the Labour party. But as the EU hurtles down the path towards federalism, I am convinced more than ever that this question still has to be subject to much soul-searching and internal review.
As the poll on the in last week’s Guardian demonstrates, trust in the European project is falling across the continent and is now at an all-time low. With the Euro tanking and southern Europe in its current malaise, it’s easy to understand why some people would prefer to be out than in, and many businesses are wondering how life could look outside the EU. Yet, with the prime minister’s speech in January, a clear process has now been put in place to get a better deal for Britain in the EU. Most people in the business world now see the UK’s best interests being served by engaging in substantial renegotiation to turn the EU into the flexible, adaptive structure it needs to become if it is to survive and thrive. To that end, I am delighted to be co-chairing the new Business for Britain campaign aimed at mobilising and better reflecting the interests and opinions of the business community in the great EU debate to secure a better deal for Britain in Europe.
At a time when this government and governments across Europe are having to mete out painful austerity, working people find it incredibly frustrating that we seem to have little control over ever-increasing payments to the EU. Labour wisely got behind the push for a real-terms cut to the EU’s next long-term budget, but we need to do far more to show we are serious about far-reaching reform to get Britain’s relationship with Europe onto a long term stable footing.
While we differ on other policy areas, David Cameron should be congratulated for laying down markers on how the EU needs to change along the lines of flexibility and fairness to boost competitiveness, principles I was heartened to see Douglas Alexander and Labour endorsing. In recent years, the debate has fallen squarely along in vs out lines. The reality is, however, that the majority of Labour members, the electorate and those in business favour a more nuanced view – being prepared to give our membership of the EU a chance provided that significant changes to our terms of that membership are made. The test now is whether this can be made to happen.
Above all, Britain needs to be in a relationship with the EU where the costs don’t outweigh the benefits. SMEs and start-up’s, who employ hundreds of thousands of the UK’s workforce, find themselves paying significant compliance costs attached to EU regulation, whose one-size-fits-all approach seems to forget the smaller businesses who don’t benefit as much from cross-border legislation. To boost jobs and growth, British business has to be competitive, and it is with this aim in mind that Business for Britain is seeking a better EU deal to help pave the way towards economic prosperity.
John Mills is co-chairman of Business for Britain and the chairman and founder of JML – the consumer products and shopping channel company. John stood for the Labour party in the 1974 general election and for the European parliament in 1979. He was the national agent for the referendum campaign in 1975 and has been secretary of the Labour Euro-safeguards campaign since 1975