Business leaders tell Cameron Britain must remain in EU
Britain must remain part of the EU and reform it from within, business leaders told British Prime Minister David Cameron, warning that a possible exit from the bloc could isolate the country's economy.
As Britain gears up for a planned "in or out" referendum in 2017, British employers' group the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said there was no viable alternative to remaining in the EU but laid out a wish-list of reforms to make membership more beneficial.
"Closing ourselves off from the world cannot be the answer. The stakes have never been higher," CBI president Mike Rake told the organisation's annual conference.
"Britain's role in the world has always been to embrace openness, to seize opportunity, harness global trends and maximise our integration with the world's economies."
Mr Cameron, seeking to put an end to decades of public and political division over Britain's EU membership, has pledged to fight for reform in Europe and to put the changes to voters in a 2017 referendum, assuming he wins an election due in 2015.
Mr Cameron wants Britain to stay in a reformed EU, but cautioned that the referendum outcome was still in the balance.
"It is my judgment that our current consent for remaining inside the EU is wafer thin," Mr Cameron told the conference.
"We haven't made the argument enough about why Europe matters and, frankly, there are lots of things in the European Union that badly need reform."
Divided public opinion over Europe poses one of the biggest obstacles to Mr Cameron winning a second term in 2015. He is under pressure from eurosceptic MPs in his ruling Conservatives to stem a loss of support to the UK Independence Party , which calls for an immediate withdrawal from the EU.
A poll last month showed that if a referendum was held in 2014, 46pc of people would back withdrawal from the EU and 38pc would vote to stay.
The macroeconomic think-tank NIESR said yesterday there was a lack of adequate analysis to help inform voters on the economic consequences of Britain pulling out of the EU.
NIESR's director Jonathan Portes said producing such work would be a formidably difficult task, but highlighted the risk that Britain's large financial services sector would suffer and that external investment could be "seriously damaged".
The CBI said the EU needed a moratorium on new legislation in specific fields such as employment law and also to cut back on "lifestyle rules" governing areas like diet and gambling where it accused the European Commission of "mission creep".