David Cameron has rejected claims that a referendum on EU membership would harm the UK economy.
The Prime Minister tried to reassure business leaders at a CBI conference yesterday while arguing that Britain cannot secure reform of the EU by just saying it will “stick with whatever we have, come what may”.
Lib Dem Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg also addressed the conference yesterday on Europe, warning that leaving would be the equivalent of pulling up a drawbridge.
In Labour leader Ed Miliband’s speech, he said departure from the EU would “close the UK from the rest of the world”.
Mr Cameron’s stance on Europe has hardened ahead of a by-election in Rochester and Strood, where his party faces former Tory MP Mark Reckless who defected to Ukip.
In his speech to the pro-EU CBI, Mr Cameron addressed concerns over the impact his proposed referendum in 2017.
He said: “If there has been uncertainty, why is it that there has been such an extraordinary period of investment into our country?”
He went on: “The worst thing for us to do as a country is to pretend that this European debate is not happening. The best thing is to get out there and make the arguments.”
He added: “Simply standing here and saying, ‘I will stay in Europe, I will stick with whatever we have, come what may’ is not a plan.”
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Mr Cameron defended his strategy of renegotiating EU membership before an in/out referendum in 2017, and told the conference in London that, by contrast, Labour had no plans to reform Europe.
Mr Miliband hit back by warning that “flirting” with withdrawal represented “a clear and present danger to our future prosperity”.
Mr Miliband then warned: “There are some people in our country who advocate exit from the EU. There are others who flirt with it, thinking they can do so without consequence and perhaps with advantage to Britain. In my view, both are equally dangerous. It is a betrayal of our national interest.”
He added: “Giving succour to the argument that the real answer is leaving the EU, or contemplating it, simply drags us closer to exit.
“And every nod and wink to those who want to leave sends a message to potential investors in our country that we are not open for business, that our country is a dangerous bet.”
Mr Cameron’s strategy “has simply weakened our influence, not strengthened it”, he said.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said it was “nonsensical” to threaten to leave the EU in an attempt to force through reforms.
CBI Director-General John Cridland said: “The PM gave an upbeat speech with deficit reduction firmly in pole position.
“There was recognition that it is necessary to grow at the same time as cutting back, and it was good to hear the emphasis on both infrastructure investment and skills. Business will welcome the PM’s endorsement of the CBI’s Europe strategy of ‘In with Reform’.”
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