The CBI’s position on Brexit is completely irrational and should be ignored

The CBI’s position on Brexit is completely irrational and should be ignored

As a businessman, when I make a deal with a client, I prefer to tell them that if they don’t make this deal, I will have to sack 10 people, I will be on my uppers, and my company will go into liquidation.

I find that concentrates the mind and the client generally gives me an acceptable deal.

OK, stop nodding. And if you were nodding along, then please re-read it.

The above illustrates well why the CBI, which flaunts itself as the voice of British business, is so eager for the Government to do any deal, literally any deal, with the EU.

This is the CBI which was so prescient on the euro in 1999, calling on business leaders not to be swayed by “ill-informed scare stories” and consider the benefits of European Monetary Union.

It’s probably best simply to repeat what the CBI’s then Director General, Adair Turner, said at the time: “The euro will create a single market of transparent prices, reduced exchange rate risk and a pan-European capital market. Each of these will give a stimulus to competition and productivity growth across Europe.”

Its current campaign is to suggest that there are armies of Brexit zealots whose “first and only choice is for Britain to walk away without a deal”, a pathway which of course it calls “not only wrong but irresponsible”.

It goes on to say that, if Britain chose to operate by World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules, then it would open up a “Pandora’s Box” of economic consequences, including significant tariff and regulatory barriers to trade.

Most businesses, if they were advising the Government, would tell the Government not to limit their options, as the CBI appears to want to do, but to go out and get a good deal – and walk away if they can’t get it.

Unfortunately, their so-called representative – the CBI – hasn’t learnt this lesson and wants to tell the Government, grudgingly, that they can get a deal – but to be “under no illusions about what no deal would really mean”.  Still more unfortunately, the Government (and to be fair, all governments) still rely on the CBI to give them business opinion.

This type of campaign from the CBI shows you why governments need to start going out and talking to businesses directly.

To be fair to the CBI, their bruising experience in the earlier Scottish referendum meant they chose not to become a ‘registered participant’ in the EU referendum and campaign overtly for Remain. When I talked to a senior former CBI insider, he explained that the organisation had taken a knock from its foray into the Scottish vote, and that it had learnt from that error.

As a leader within the CBI, he was expected to represent all members, but plainly that would have been impossible if the organisation had taken sides – just as would be the case if the CBI took sides during a general election campaign.  So he reiterated that membership organisations like the CBI should not take sides in referendums – refreshing to hear.

Luckily, the Government has ignored the CBI on this issue, as it should.  Lord Lamont, of Leave means Leave, reiterated just yesterday that no deal is better than a bad deal. Which has to be correct.

Of course, we want a deal with the EU. Of course, it’s best to do a deal that preserves those existing favourable trading partnerships and allows car manufacturers, for example, to transfer parts between EU countries unhindered. Of course, we want to do a deal with countries which are our partners, and have been for tens if not hundreds of years.

If the EU is rational, there will be a deal. If the EU is completely irrational, then who knows?  But who would want to stay in an irrational trading agreement anyway?

Whatever happens, Britons and the Government know that Britain is a great trading nation with a great future. Britain will get a deal – even if it is not from the EU. Britain will have to earn that deal and work hard, but Britain should not fear to go on to WTO rules – rules that nearly every other country successfully operates on when they trade with the EU.