Some of the UK's best-known executives have written that "the economic case to stay in the EU is overwhelming" in an open letter, while Prime Minister David Cameron walks an EU tightrope placed by his own Conservatives.
A group of business leaders from the UK wrote in the left-leaning Independent newspaper on Monday that anyone arguing in favor of an EU exit was "putting politics before economics," saying there was a clear economic incentive for Britain to stay in the bloc.
"The economic case to stay in the EU is overwhelming," the group wrote. "To Britain, membership is estimated to be worth between 31 billion pounds (36.7 billion euros, $47.1 billion) and 92 billion pounds per year in income gains, or between 1,200 and 3,500 pounds for every household."
The signatories included the previous and current presidents of the Chamber of British Industry, as well as Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson and the chairmen of Deloitte, telecommunications firm BT and Lloyds. They supported Cameron's stated aim to revise the terms of EU membership, saying some alterations were needed to support the country's financial sector, but concluded that such change was best secured from within.
"What we should now be doing is fighting hard to deliver a more competitive Europe, to combat the criticism of those that champion our departure. We should push to strengthen and deepen the Single Market to include digital, energy, transport and telecoms, which could boost Britain's GDP by 110 billion pounds," they wrote.
Cornered by conservative comrades
Britain's ruling Conservatives have been rocked by EU infighting over the past few weeks, with Prime Minister David Cameron trying to play intermediary. Cameron, who says he is seeking renegotiated terms of EU membership more favorable for Britain and the bloc, has pledged to hold an "in/out" referendum in 2017 if he wins re-election.
After last month's difficult showing in local elections, marked by a rise in fortunes for the anti-EU United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), Cameron has come under further pressure. One motion from within his own party proposed anchoring the potential referendum in law as a Conservative plan. Another motion said that the Queen should have mentioned the renegotiation of EU terms in her speech at the formal opening of parliament.
Former Foreign Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer Lord Geoffrey Howe recently wrote in the Observer newspaper that Cameron's Conservative Party was "running scared" of its own backbenchers on the issue.
"Sadly, by making it clear in January that he opposes the current terms of UK membership of the EU, the prime minister has opened a Pandora's box politically and seems to be losing control of his party in the process," the former foreign and finance minister wrote.
The UK already opts out of the single European currency, the Schengen open border zone, and only partially accepts the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights and a joint policing zone.
UKIP's rise threatens the Conservatives' monopoly on right-of-center politics in Britain. But business leaders on Monday wrote that when it came to the EU: "The benefits of membership overwhelmingly outweigh the costs, and to suggest otherwise is putting politics before economics."
msh/rc (AP, dpa)