The last time the UK had a referendum on its place in the EU (1975) the attitude of business people was pretty clear: in favour. In those days, business people from the UK (‘the sick man of Europe’) were desperate to import the influence of the relatively dynamic European market economies. It was the unions and the left who were the most deeply opposed to EU membership – seeing the EU as a means of permanently entrenching capitalism.
How times have changed! Now, the left can’t get enough of the EU’s social legislation, and is generally supportive of its plans for expansion and harmonization. The only known remaining supporters of the euro for the UK are Guardian columnists. By contrast, Business, and particularly Finance, seems to be moving on. Yesterday, in evidence to the Treasury Select Committee, several leading lights from the City of London expressed their extreme lack of concern about the prospect of an Out vote in a referendum. Jim O’Neill, outgoing chairman of Goldman Sachs, was particularly dismissive of the EU:
We should not be scared of it [leaving the EU] and exploring a world without it. The opportunities that are arising from the dramatically changing world are huge and I don’t think quite a lot of people in our area, never mind people in Brussels, are that interested or understand it
The City is exasperated by Brussels’ attempt to impose a new European-wide financial tax – which it says will simply make the EU less competitive and also fail, because of the overall effect on growth, to generate any real revenue. (It’s not just the City who thinks this, either).
In short, O’Neill and co. feel the EU is playing politics rather than addressing economic reality. They also don’t like proposals for caps on bonuses!
The dividing lines for and against continued membership are getting very blurred: but surely something has gone wrong for the EU if a chairman of that well known hotbed of radicalism Goldman Sachs can be so relaxed about life without Brussels.