CBI director-general in spat with Eurosceptic campaigners

CBI chief says business will back "a reformed Europe".


By William Louch

24 Nov 2015

Carolyn Fairbairn, the new head of the influential Confederation of British Industry (CBI) - an organisation representing 190,000 businesses employing across the UK - has her organisation's expressed support for the UK remaining in a reformed EU.

In her first interview since her appointment as Director-General of the lobby group, she said she believes that, "our members want to stay in a reformed European Union," before adding, "they see significant benefits arising from  a single market of 500 million people."

The comments come as the UK seeks to renegotiate its relationship with the EU ahead of a referendum on its membership of the political bloc, expected to be held next year.


Specific demands released by David Cameron, the UK Prime Minister, include protecting Britain's access to the single market, reducing red tape, restricting non-UK citizens' access to certain welfare benefits and exempting Britain from efforts to build an 'ever-closer union'.

Referring to the renegotiation demands, Fairbairn said that Cameron's proposed reforms broadly reflect those sought by business, particularly the commitment to ensuring that the EU reduces regulation.

However, her statements have provoked a furious reaction from Eurosceptic campaigners, particularly the ‘Vote Leave’ campaign group.

Robert Oxley, head of media for the group said, “The CBI has misrepresented its members, relied on dodgy polls and failed to criticise even the worst of Brussels’ excess.”

“Until it addresses those issues, it won't be taken seriously in the EU debate."

Alan Halsall, a board member of the campaign, added; "The CBI says one thing in public and another in private. It claims that it has been ‘banging the drum’ for reform in the EU, while privately it warns ministers not to ‘overplay their hand’ in the negotiations.

The incident is not the first time that anti-EU campaigners have clashed with the CBI.  

Two Eurosceptic campaigners, supported by Vote Leave, interrupted a speech by Cameron at an event hosted by the business lobby shouting "CBI - the voice of Brussels", before being escorted out of the venue.

Fairbairn rebuts her organisation's critics, saying attempts by Eurosceptic groups to stop companies from speaking out on Britain’s membership of the EU are likely to fail in the long run. She said, "These are generalised attacks trying to muzzle business. I speak to a great number of companies, and I don’t believe this will work."

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