British business 'would vote to stay in EU'

Most British companies would vote to stay in the European Union in a referendum because it was “ overwhelmingly” in the UK’s national interest, according to a business leader in the UK.

Sir Michael Rake, president of the UK's CBI, told the business group’s annual conference there was a choice between two “very different futures”.

He told the 1,000 delegates: “One, in which we risk looking inward, shutting ourselves off from the world in the face of inevitable global change and where we reject the power of free and competitive markets to drive progress.

“The other, in which we embrace the openness which has always been the foundation of Britain’s success – to trade, to people, to investment and to ideas from abroad, and of competitive markets at home.

“British business will always choose openness.”

Sir Michael said four out of five CBI members would vote to stay in the EU, which has 500 million consumers, although there was a need for the EU to be reformed.

“This agenda must be ambitious, but has to be achievable, benefiting the whole of the EU, not just a special deal for Britain.

“Do not be fooled – by withdrawing from Europe, we do not somehow become more open to trade elsewhere. Instead we turn inwards, going against the grain of an increasingly connected world.”

Sir Michael, chairman of BT and deputy chairman of Barclays, added that economic evidence showed that immigration benefited the UK.

Almost two thirds of CBI members said immigration was positive for their business, with only 1% believing it had been negative.

“EU migrants pay taxes, collect less benefits than British citizens, and many do not settle in the UK permanently.”

Sir Michael said immigration was part of the solution to the UK’s skills shortages, adding that BT could not have delivered the rollout of superfast broadband without a significant workforce from outside.

“Without the availability of this labour, instead of 82% coverage, much of Britain would still be waiting for superfast broadband and those yet to get it would be suffering further delay.”

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