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Colin Stanbridge
Colin Stanbridge, chief executive of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, launches the report on EU benefits to business (LCCI)

As London businesses came out in favour of a renegotiation of the UK's membership with the European Union, IBTimes UK spoke to London Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Colin Stanbridge about making the tricky case to stay in the single market ahead of an in/out referendum.

Q: How optimistic are you that David Cameron will deliver a decent renegotiation of the UK's membership of the EU?

Colin Stanbridge: There's no doubt that it is going to be harder than many people think to renegotiate but there's no doubt in my mind that that's what businesses want.

Sometimes, maybe because we're an island race, we think of course they'll listen to us. Of course they'll change things.

When it comes to the renegotiation bit, we're going to have to be very clever, very subtle, maybe self-deprecating, and not appear arrogant about 'if you want us to stay in your club, you have to change this, this and this'.

Before we get to that stage, the most important thing is drill down into what companies really mean when they say renegotiation. We've started that.

There's a lot more work to be done about what people mean. Is it employment legislation? Is it justice?

I hope that by us and other organisations giving the government over the next couple of years, before the renegotiations, more exact detail over what it is that needs to be changed we'll give them the opportunity to go in to the negotiation and be much more forensic about it. Much more detailed about the things they believe.

I am convinced there will be many companies in the rest of Europe who will take similar views to British companies. I don't think British companies are out on a limb. It's a much more emotional argument in this country than in other places about in or out, because on some places there's absolutely no debate at all about in or out, but I think some of the worries and some of the problems will be universal across Europe - and that will help in what is going to be a very tricky, very delicate, not easy renegotiation.

There's no doubt, from our initial survey work and other people's survey work, that this is what business wants. Business wants change.

Business wants the EU. It wants to stay in the EU and all the obvious benefits of being in the single market, but not as we know it.

Q: Do you think it was a mistake to call for a referendum? Should Cameron have just gone ahead with trying to renegotiate our relationship with the EU, without leaving the threat of a UK exit hanging in the background?

Well, yes. But the politics have driven it. I'm not a politician, but I understand the power of those politics and I can understand as a politician you might see it as being a bit weak.

Your opponents are going to say - Ukip presumably and people in the Labour party who want us out of the EU; it isn't just common to the right-wing - what's the point [of renegotiating]? Where's the stick that will follow that up?

And what are you going to do, if you fail to renegotiate? Because if you fail to renegotiate, and you're up against many of the other members of the EU, what are you going to do about it? I think you are gradually forced into the situation of saying right, we'll have a referendum.

The truth is that this is a major decision. Unusually, we had a referendum to get us into the then common market, and when things get to such a pitch, you're forced. But I accept that it isn't necessarily, from a negotiating point of view, the best thing to have.

Other people would argue that it backs [negotiations] up. We can tell the people negotiating that if we don't get change then the British public will walk away.

Q: How can business convince the average man and woman on the street that we should stay in the EU?

CS: By keeping restating the facts. By saying look - this is where most of our exports go.

You're in this toxic territory. When we say things like business believes that [the EU is] a source of skilled labour - and, of course, unskilled labour - that's not an easy argument to put. On the doorstep, people just see this as somebody coming over here and taking our jobs. Rather than what businesses see, which is: I need people to employ and the education system isn't producing those so I am going to look abroad.

We would go further on this issue when it comes to immigration - that non-EU immigration is important to us as well, especially for smaller companies, because they can't easily access, or pay for, or get, the brightest or the best coming out of universities and so are forced to look elsewhere.

They're all difficult issues - cutting through the emotion and getting the media to cut through the emotion.

You just have to keep on pointing out that it's about jobs. What do we want? Well, we want jobs. We want to create wealth. If you leave a huge market like the EU, where we have traditional ties of exports, then you're cutting off your nose to spite your face.

If it means that, for example, oversees companies who we, alongside other people, goes out to attract and say this is the best place to set up your European headquarters within the EU. You'll get all those advantages, but it's a nicer place to live, and easier to attract a workforce, blah blah blah. If leave, all of those arguments go away. Which means fewer jobs. And that means less influence in the world for Britain.

Getting over facts instead of emotion can be difficult, but you have to keep on.

Q: How can you convince workers that relaxing employment law is in their interest?

CS: We certainly, as an organisation, do not want to scrap all employment legislation. That is the last thing we want to do. We want to have employment legislation that is fair to both sides. Increasingly, the message we're getting back from employers is that the balance has shifted.

We see it, though it is not necessarily to do with the EU, in employment tribunals. That is why we were so pleased that the government is taking action on employment tribunals, because you see it going the other way.

The argument to the employees is: if it becomes too burdensome, then employers are going to go for short-term contracts, they're going to go for fewer jobs.

We expect employers to be fair and not to abuse the system. Therefore that means you can't just say 'be fair', you've got to have rules and regulations. But at the moment, those rules and regulations are far too heavy.

I've spoken to French employers. Take the French working hours - it's a real harm to the French economy. It is seen as a bar to the creation of jobs. What we're saying is we need to make sure that we're not gold-plating legislation and doing things we don't have to.

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