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  1. Election 2024
23 May 2016

We must listen to our closest partners and stay in the EU

To Europe the UK stands as a beacon of freedom, justice, democracy and fairness - but Brexit threatens that.

By Karan Bilimoria Karan Bilimoria

The UK has a lot to be proud of. With only one per cent of the world’s population, we are one of the five largest economies in the world.

Could the UK survive if it left the EU? Yes, there is no doubt that we are a hugely adaptable, flexible and resilient nation.

I am openly Eurosceptic. The European Union is in urgent need of reform. Despite their huge powers, MEPs have no accountability before the electorate and no connection with the regions they represent. I do not know anyone who knows who their MEPs are!

Furthermore, it is ludicrous to move from Brussels to Strasbourg for a week every month – the EU should just be based in Brussels. The status quo is inefficient and undemocratic. Just imagine if Parliament had to move between Westminster and Belfast or Edinburgh once a month?

The Euro is a proven failed project because one size cannot fit all. The European Union makes up just seven per cent of the world’s population, yet it has 25 per cent of the world’s economy. It also has 50 per cent of the world’s welfare spending, which is completely unsustainable.

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And yet, in spite of my reservations, and in spite of being Eurosceptic, I believe that we should stay in the EU. 

Yes, the UK would adapt if we left, but the question is, would we thrive and prosper? The UK economy and our international standing would take a severe blow should we vote to leave the EU.

This is the view held by heads of state, international trading partners, and – critically – our closest allies. Independently both Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama have remarked on the difficulty of trading with the UK after a Brexit, and people I have spoken to from almost every country say this too.

Indeed, if we left the EU, we would need to renegotiate 50 trade agreements, not least our trade deal with the EU itself. This is not exactly going to be an easy negotiation with an organisation we have just deserted and, through our actions, possibly permanently destabilised!

Brexiteers talk about how we would be able to sign trade deals quickly with other countries and even talk about relying on the WTO. Well, if the WTO was so great, why are all these trade deals necessary in the first place? Trade deals are notoriously torturous processes and it will not be easy to agree trade deals with other countries, especially as we will be trying to forge trade deals with countries that did not want us to leave the EU in the first place.

Indian administrators, politicians and business leaders see the UK as their gateway to the EU and the key to their prosperity. European leaders do not want us to leave. Those whose work and commitment is of central importance to our economic growth are calling out saying ‘we want you to remain a part of the EU’.

The IMF, along with the CBI and Bank of England, has urged the UK not to leave. And I have spoken with professors from Harvard Business School who have been unanimous in urging the UK to remain in the EU, in fact saying we ‘would be mad to leave’!

This is about pragmatism, and the enormous impact leaving the European Union would have on inward investment, international trade, innovation, the strength of our industries and economic growth.  

Should we leave the European Union, we will lose a vast amount of research and development funding, threatening something that is already underfunded compared with the EU and OECD average. Almost one thousand projects at seventy-eight UK universities and research centres benefit from funds from the European Research Council. 

We also stand to lose the strong collaboration that currently exists between British and European universities. Indeed, all universities in the UK have spoken out against Brexit.

More broadly, people simply do not realise a rarely highlighted fact that the UK is the number two country in the world for foreign direct investment. While almost half of that is in financial services, we are still second in the world.

Would we retain that position if the EU referendum leads to a Brexit? This uncertainty is reflected amongst both businesses and consumers. Deloitte recently surveyed the CFOs of FTSE 350 companies and found that businesses are delaying recruiting new staff and other internal investments until after June.  

Meanwhile, a recent index by GfK puts consumer confidence 18 points lower than a year ago.

All the uncertainty surrounding the outcome of a Brexit vote could have a very damaging impact on the UK’s current account, leaving us with a huge hole in inward investment.

We need to be doing everything we can to encourage this investment, and simultaneously use the dip in the pound to address our trade deficit through selling more goods and services abroad.

And perhaps most importantly, the EU and NATO have together maintained peace in Europe for over 70 years. The UK has never operated alone; we thrive on collaboration and partnerships.

A senior vice-chancellor of a European university said to me the other day, ‘How can the UK even think of leaving Europe? You have saved us twice in the last century. How can you even think of being responsible for what might potentially destroy the EU? Would you be able to live with that?’

That is not what the UK does; to Europe the UK stands as a beacon of freedom, justice, democracy and fairness.

Leaving the EU would threaten both the Union and our economic recovery. We should heed the advice of the almost everyone else in the world outside the UK.

Brexiteers often talk about losing our sovereignty. Well, we are very much in control of our sovereignty already and in many ways we have best of both worlds – we are part of the European Union, but not part of Schengen, and we are not part of the Euro.

Crucially, we are also not bound to measures advocating an ‘ever closer union’. We are still in control of our destiny and in spite of all the protestations about EU red tape, we are one of the most open and flexible economies in the world where, in 26 years of being in business, I have never faced corruption.

Britain is a relatively easy place to do business and it is now one of the most entrepreneurial countries in the world. Why risk all this? All I have said is not scaremongering – it is reality.  What the Brexiteers offer us risks what we have and creates uncertainty.

As the famous saying goes: ‘If you want to travel fast then travel alone. If you want to go far travel together’.

We need to stay together in the EU and help to reform it from the inside.

Lord Bilimoria is Founder and Chairman of the Cobra Beer Partnership and Chair of the UK-India Business Council

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