Raking Over the Past – What the CBI Chief Has Said about Europe Before

Reuters/Neil Hall

This evening at the Annual Dinner of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) the organisation’s President, Sir Mike Rake, will use his speech to boost the “In” campaign for the promised in/out referendum on the European Union.

A 1,000-strong audience of senior businessmen and politicians at London’s Grosvenor House Hotel will hear the President urge business “to turn up the volume” and extol the benefits of EU membership as debate intensifies along with speculation that the new government may want to push for an early referendum in 2016.

A version of the speech has already been released by the CBI. Among other comments Sir Mike will say:

“In the months to come, our country will have to make its own choice. A choice between openness and isolation. Between shaping the future or retreating into the past. The question is not whether the UK would survive outside the EU, but whether it would thrive. No-one has yet set out a credible alternative future to EU membership. The current alternatives are not realistic options – little or no influence and the obligation to comply with EU principles whilst still paying most of the costs…Business must be crystal clear that membership is in our national interest. The EU is key to our national prosperity.”

Sir Mike is nothing if not consistent when it comes to the EU, so it is instructive to look at previous positions he has taken on the issues to help assess how objective his advice is when it comes to matters European.

In 2003, Rake (he was knighted later in the decade) contributed a foreword to the Foreign Policy Centre pamphlet How to join the euro written by former Labour MP Giles Radice. As befits a pro-EU pamphlet it was dedicated to “Roy Jenkins (1920-2003) a great European Statesman.” The purpose of the pamphlet was clear, as Radice wrote: “Whether we join this year or next year sooner or later we are going to join the Euro.” Sir Mike, then Chairman of KPMG wrote:

“As a business participant in this debate I am struck by a stark sentence in [Radice’s] analysis: “It is vital that we do not underestimate the costs of a delay.” We have already seen a decline in the UK share of foreign investment into Europe since the launch of the euro, as well as increasing trade within the euro-zone from which the UK is excluded. I also worry about the City of London – the crown jewel of our economy – if the UK is to stay out of the euro or again put off the decision whether to join.”

Later in 2003 Rake co-signed a pro-euro letter with 25 others which was sent to Tony Blair and said that ruling out joining the euro for that parliament “would be damaging for British-based businesses, British employees and the British economy as a whole.” The letter continued: “Although in many respects, Britain is a good place to do business; non-membership of the euro is damaging that position.” It concluded:

“The weight of independent economic evidence suggests that the conditions for entry are right. Commercial reality strongly dictates that the risks of staying outside the euro far outweigh any risks of joining. The European single market has moved on and we are no longer full members. We hope that the Government will have the courage of its convictions and recognise that membership of the euro is in our long-term national interest. To do otherwise would have serious consequences for Britain’s future prosperity.”

The only area where Sir Mike’s consistent approach breaks down is in how he describes himself. In a 2013 interview he gave to Management Today he said: “My eyes are wide open. I’m neither a Eurosceptic nor a Europhile.” Confusingly, only a couple of years earlier at a Harvard Business Review event in London he said:

“I absolutely declare I’m a kind of eyes wide open pro-European. In fact, I’m a Europhile. And in fact, I’m probably one of the few people left standing, and don’t hold this against me, who still believes in the Euro, in this country.”

Some observe that the anti-independence referendum campaign in Scotland in 2014 will be a model for the pro-EU membership team. Sir Mike played an active role in the victorious No campaign. Speaking after the referendum he commented:

“It’s helpful to have the Scots within the UK – they are sensible about the EU.”


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