Business giant Mike Rake has said that it is 'optimistic' to think that the UK leaving the European Union (EU) would benefit the country's economic recovery. The former president of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and current BT chairman told BBC Radio 5 that the EU offers a huge market and opens the UK to large investments.
"I think it's just slightly optimistic to think that it is going to benefit what is now a recovery," Rake said. "It is important to continue investment, continue improvement in our productivity so that the sustainable increase of wages can be here in the United Kingdom."
UK businesses are divided over the EU vote and many big names in the industry have chosen sides. Luke Johnson, former Pizza Express chairman, is among those urging Brits to vote for a Brexit. The Institute of Directors (IoD) and the CBI have both expressed their desire for Britain to stay in a reformed EU.
The strongest argument in favour of staying in the EU is the market it offers and the trade deals that the UK isinvolved with. However, businesses have expressed their discontent about the bureaucracy that comes with EU laws, especially for small businesses.
"We believe very strongly, I speak mainly here for the CBI as, recently, president, but also for BT, we want the UK economy to be very successful, to be able to invest and create jobs as it is at the moment," Rake stated. "We believe that's best done within the European Union, a huge market of 500 million people, where we have free access and also access to 50 plus trade treaties around the world, very favourable terms, that allow our exporters to export from the UK to outside the EU and in the EU as well."
Rake is among business people, such as former M&S chair Lord Stuart Rose, Easyjet boss Carolyn McCall and Virgin founder Richard Branson, who have spoken up against a Brexit. McCall and Branson even joined the pro-EU group Britain Stronger In Europe.
In a video, McCall said that everything is easier in the EU and that consumers, as well as businesses, would benefit from the trade links across Europe that the union brings. Branson said: "Being part of Europe means we're part of one of the biggest trading blocs in the world, so the bottom line is that we're much stronger being part of Europe than being an island to ourselves."
Business representing bodies, overall, are urging the UK government to reform its position within the EU. Prime Minister David Cameron has already toured countries in the transnational organisation to discover the opportunities the UK has in terms of getting a more beneficial position. Cameron found an ally in Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who is in the same position in terms of trade deals.
"We could argue forever about what it costs. What's clear to us overall is that there is a net benefit to the UK and a very significant [one], running into billions," Rake told BBC Radio 5's Wake Up To Money.
"If you look at every year, the direct investment we get, one of the largest in Europe, [is] because we're a part of the European Union."
Asked how he justifies the high costs the EU brings to the UK's balance sheets, meaning there is less money to invest in hospitals and schools, Rake said: "You look at the exports we deliver, you look at the taxes paid because of that, where business makes a phenomenal contribution to the infrastructure of this company and its health care."