As we move into the heart of the UK General Election campaign, we are seeing politicians of all colours trying to distinguish themselves from each other. The issue of a possible future referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union features regularly in election debates. 

The CBI has long said it is for politicians and the voting public, not businesses, to decide whether there should be a referendum or not. Yet on the subject of the UK’s future in Europe, business has a clear view about what is in the best interests of jobs and growth.

The vast majority of CBI members – representing businesses of all sectors, sizes, regions and nations – are adamant that the UK remaining in a reformed EU offers the best route to prosperity. 

For business, the EU’s Single Market – the biggest in the world – gives 500 million customers to sell to, underpins UK trade far beyond Europe’s borders, and anchors overseas investment at home. In the EU, high-value sectors like the pharmaceutical industry are integrated in complex pan-European supply chains and draw on a larger pool of funding and talent for developing new products.

However, the EU needs to do more than it is currently doing to support businesses to grow, compete on the global stage, and create jobs. It needs 

to: update its Single Market for the digital age; sign more trade deals including, crucially, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the USA; and pull back from regulating on areas where it doesn’t add value, like lifestyle regulation.  

The question is not whether business can survive outside the EU, but whether it would prosper as much under other arrangements than full EU membership. Take the ‘Norway option’ of leaving the EU for example. In such a case the UK may be able to get access to the market (for a significant price) but would lose its seat at the negotiating table. 

CBI members across all sectors are clear that being standard-takers rather than standard-makers is not a satisfactory state of affairs. For example, under this scenario, there is a possibility that the European Medicines Agency could end up leaving London, which could be detrimental for UK pharmaceutical companies working with the agency. 

So for businesses large and small, right across the country, future prosperity is best served by the UK remaining in a reformed EU.

Steven Altmann-Richer is principal policy adviser at the CBI

This article was published in the April issue of PharmaTimes Magazine. You can read the full magazine here