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UK’s place is in the EU. No ifs or buts. To leave would be a disaster.

By Iain Anderson, Director and Chief Corporate Counsel of the Cicero Group

Political rhetoric around our place at the EU negotiating table has shifted very significantly recently. Just a year ago David Cameron could not have been clearer as he talked constantly of his view that the UK must remain “at the table” to be able to influence decisions, writes Iain Anderson.

He made continued reference to the single market as a prime mover in the UK’s economic interests and warned that “if we left the EU it would be a one way ticket – not a return”. However, as the in/out debate has grown louder and we get ever closer to the General Election, it has become much more difficult for Prime Minister Cameron to make such decisive comments.

What we do all agree on, however, is that the EU needs reform. Leaders from all parties and most businesses leaders I speak to are talking about reform. There is now a huge job to scope out what that reform looks like. And I am delighted that it is now beginning to happen in earnest on a whole variety of issues from the single market to national welfare settlements within the EU.

It is not enough for the UK to stand on the sidelines saying it – alone – wants change. That is not helpful for either gaining the support and confidence of the British public, or for our relationship with the European Union and participating countries. The UK must continue to build strong, deep relationships with key countries like Germany and work together towards a sensible set of reforms.

To go it alone only alienates us from the rest of Europe, causing unhelpful fractions and no solutions.
Historically, the UK has thrived of being a nation that looks outwards. But I worry UK politics is becoming increasingly introverted, a dangerous trait at any time and now more than ever in our increasingly globalised world.

In my mind we have to start thinking about what we want from Europe and how we can get the best out of it, but while those questions remain unanswered, the dialogue is stuck on the question of whether we stay or leave.

Next year’s General Election will see our membership of the EU in question and therefore we need some urgent policy thinking on how to get the most out of the relationship and a deepened relationship with key allies.

Looking to my own business, Cicero operates on three continents. We have offices in New York, Singapore, London and Brussels, so leaving the EU would have an immediate impact. If the UK heads for the exit door there could be some obvious logistical considerations for our business in London, such as tariffs which may arise and cause a deterrent for international clients; I would also expect to see a greatly increased level of bureaucracy involved in working with our clients in Europe.

However, these concerns are minor in comparison to the far greater impact leaving the EU would have on the UK public affairs industry as a whole. Britain’s global relevance would be massively diminished and this, of course, would be reflected in demand. I would expect the industry to be forced to adapt to a smaller UK footprint almost overnight.

There would be a big question mark over whether international businesses would become more interested in what’s going on in Asia or Brussels than London? Similarly, would those few firms operating purely in the UK suddenly be a lot less keen to influence policy that only impacts domestic affairs? The list goes on.

Britain’s future with the European Union certainly hangs in the balance and I hope that our politicians are able to move the debate forward sooner rather than later. The current uncertainly is bad for business and for the UK’s reputation. We will all suffer unless we are able to start a sensible conversation about what a reformed relationship with the EU looks like.

Iain Anderson, is the Director and Chief Corporate Counsel of the Cicero Group. The Cicero Group is an integrated communications agency specialising in corporate PR, government relations, digital communications and market research aimed at business, consumer and policy audiences.

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