The CBI is unwise to meddle with the politics of identity and belonging

I welcome free speech in our democracy. I strongly disagree with the CBI’s stance on the EU, but I do not challenge their right to hold it. I would suggest they pause and reconsider their enthusiasm for intervening in debates about identity and belonging, as they can now appraise the results of their current campaign over Scotland’s future.

They have adopted similar tactics in their approach to Scotland as in their stance on the EU. Their threats to Scotland about what might happen to business there if the Scots vote to leave the UK look as if they have been counterproductive. They certainly show a lack of wisdom.

Mr Cridland is a passionate advocate of the union with Scotland. There’s nothing wrong with that, and as a private individual he is welcome to speak out all he likes. As Director General of the CBI he has to consider the views and interests of his members. He claims that his members are also Unionists. Many might be, but as we have seen, the CBI is now facing the resignation of various member firms because they are either not Unionists, or think it is wrong for the CBI to take a strong political stance on such a divisive issue. It does not look good to see resignations on principle as the result of the CBI declaring a view on Scotland’s future. That cannot help the cause of Better off together. Was it wise?

The main CBI tactic in the Scottish debate has been to claim that various businesses will either leave Scotland, or would cease new investment and job creation there should Scotland leave the UK. This statement was countered by some businesses making the opposite case, saying they might find Scotland more attractive if it was independent. For example independent Scotland could set a lower aviation tax than the rest of the UK which aviation businesses would find attractive. The original claim created a sense of disunity, with other voices trying to undermine its credibility. Far from helping the Better Together campaign, it looks as if the business interventions have hindered the cause they are trying to help. At best they have not been able to prevent a clear swing towards separatism in the polls.

Which brings me back to the issue of the CBI’s stance on the EU. The CBI want to negotiate a new deal with the EU, but also want to say that the UK must stay in whatever the results of the negotiation. Good business people understand that to negotiate successfully you need to be able to walk away from the negotiation if necessary. The CBI is out to hobble the UK before it begins discussing what a new relationship with the EU might look like.

Maybe I should not worry about the CBI stance, because on the EU as on Scotland the voters may not be swayed favourably by it. It would be good, however, if the EU debate were spared the misleading claims that many businesses would pack up and leave if the UK left the EU. This was after all a claim many in the business community made if we did not join the Euro. They were wrong about that.

Mr Cridland may have had good reason to think most member firms were pro the union of the UK. He should not be under any delusion about belonging to the EU on current terms. Most people are against that and do not want our negotiating power hobbled, and that must include some business leaders. What he is experiencing today with the CBI’s unfortunate incursion into the Scottish referendum would be small beer compared to the grief intervention in the EU debate might cause him. It is not wise for business organisations to interfere in matters of belonging and identity, matters more of the heart than head. Sticking to the facts is one thing. Claiming you know how businesses will react, when you were wrong last time about the Euro, is not wise.


  1. Antisthenes
    April 23, 2014

    That the CBI is pro EU comes as know surprise as the EU’s draconian rules and regulations fit well well with the big businesses that they represent as they restrict competition to their advantage. Being pro union is harder to fathom as Scotland in or out just like the UK being in or out of the EU trade and business will continue as usual as it is no ones interest that it should not. My feeling is that the CBI is towing the major parties line merely to gain favour.

    1. Denis Cooper
      April 23, 2014

      Trade and business would not continue as usual if Scotland left the UK without the EU treaties having been suitably amended, or at least with some kind of trade deal having put into place so that Scotland could continue to trade freely with the EU countries and with the third countries covered by EU deals.

      Everything that we take for granted about Scotland’s ability to trade freely around the world ultimately depends upon the 1707 Treaty of Union. Under the present EU treaties, which do not even include the word “Scotland” anywhere, the instant that the 1707 treaty was terminated Scotland would no longer be in the EU and the EU Single Market, while the continuing UK would be, and none of the EU trade deals which apply to the present UK would still apply to Scotland.

      This would be nothing more than a small, indeed rather technical, legal problem which could very easily be resolved during the interval between a “yes” vote and the final separation of Scotland from the rest of the UK, if the governments of all the other EU member states were willing to solve it in that way, for example by fast-tracking Scotland into the EU as a new member state in its own sovereign right rather than it being in the EU solely by virtue of it being part of a member state, the present UK, under the 1707 Treaty of Union.

      However we already know that the government of at least one of the other EU member states, Spain, would not be willing to agree to Scotland being allowed to take that shortcut, which would involve the use of Article 48 TEU on revision of the EU treaties, and instead has publicly stated that Scotland would have to take the longer route of applying to join the EU through the normal Article 49 TEU procedure for the accession of a new member state, and moreover Barroso has publicly stated that even this would be difficult or even impossible.

      As technically Salmond would still have no legal standing to propose EU treaty changes under Article 48 TEU it would be Cameron who was pleading for the necessary changes to the EU treaties; and probably he would get them, but it is virtually inconceivable that all of the other EU member state governments would agree to what he wanted without any of them insisting on a price for their assent, concessions to be extracted from Scotland for sure but possibly also from the rest of the present UK.

      1. Denis Cooper
        April 24, 2014

        Comment missed for moderation here.

  2. Lifelogic
    April 23, 2014

    Indeed sensible points as usual. What the CBI usually seems to want is over regulation from the EU to kill small competition to the larger & multinational companies they tend to represent.

    Meanwhile Ed Davey (and Cameron one assumes) is to give the go ahead to idiotic subsidies for eight new renewable projects today, including the bonkers, burning of expensive biomass at Drax. The economics of the mad house as usual. If the daft Ed Davey is so keen on this religious lunacy could he please waste his own money on it. Instead of just pissing tax payers and electricity buyers money down the drain and destroying thousands of jobs in the process.

    1. Antisthenes
      April 23, 2014

      Indeed this green nonsense will destroy far more jobs than those that greens boast about creating from heavily subsidised green jobs in the end. We all know what subsidising businesses for the sake of jobs does yet here we are doing it all over again are we so stupid that we cannot learn from our past mistakes. Assuming that climate models are right about the cause and effect regardless of the fact they have proved far from accurate so far there is not a social or economic case to make that we should at this time follow the energy policies that we are. Cost benefit analysis does not tell us to do what we are doing and the speed at which technology is advancing tells us that relatively quickly more cost effective means are and will be found to tackle the downside of predicted climate change whilst at the same time exploiting the benefits. Our stupidity does not lay solely in not learning from past mistakes but also into the realm of believing every crackpot be that a left wing politician/ Green, technocrat, busybody and all the other vested interests all of which wish to profit in one way or another from our naivety and gullibility.

  3. The PrangWizard
    April 23, 2014

    So, on St George’s Day, England’s Day, Mr Redwood chooses to open with a comment about Scotland. The agenda here is the preservation of the Union at all costs more than free speech, as he fears the CBI have done harm to the cause of holding it together. England’s identity or interests must not be mentioned.

    We have the same on the BBC early this morning, in one case they link St George and the flag to the Palestinians and in the other they ask some people in Stratford on Avon, because it is Shakespeare’s birthdate anniversary today, what they know and think about Scotland and independence.

    Nothing exclusively about England and the people of England. Neither are to be mentioned. They know they cannot omit a mention completely, but being forced they decide to link it with something else to divert attention as best they can.

    I would like to think we will see a second piece from Mr Redwood later today on England and its interests.

    I will be recognising the day around lunchtime by taking my flag to Dragon Hill, where it is said George slew the dragon, just down the slope from the ancient Uffington White Horse chalk figure on north slope of the Berkshire Downs.

    Reply I will be attending a St George’s Day dinner which I will write about after the event.I have recently blogged on Who speaks for England?

    1. oldtimer
      April 23, 2014

      I too saw the BBC Scottish referendum reporter, a young Scottish lady, express surprise that the citizens of Stratford seemed disengaged from the Scottish debate. She should not have been surprised. They do not have a vote on the matter! The whole referendum issue is another fine mess, courtesy of the political class.

      PS The Berkshire Downs and Whitehorse Hill are among my favourite places.

      1. Denis Cooper
        April 23, 2014

        And some of us in Berkshire would rather like Oxfordshire to return that lost territory, if they would be so kind … and also the enclaves of Berkshire in Oxfordshire shown on old maps … as for Slough, Buckinghamshire can have that back …

      2. Sarah
        April 23, 2014

        Just saw a BBC report from York about Scottish Independence and what the English thought about it.
        The only English opinion given about England was a promotion of the BBC’s agenda of divide and rule, North against South to the advantage of the Scots. People thought Scotland might be worse off after independence or said they didn’t blame them as they were neglected but all seemed to lament Scotland’s potential departure. Where were the people who thought Scotland was over indulged or thought England would be better off without the place? Where were those who didn’t care? Polls suggest a sizable chunk of English people fit into the latter categories but you’d never guess it from that report. I would expect a canvass on English opinion to include a mix of those who were in favour and those who were against and to actually have some interest in England, this was conspicuous by its absence from this report though.

  4. Peter Whale
    April 23, 2014

    The CBI admin just like the Royal Socity take a policy view without taking note of their memberships views. They think acting like dictatorial government is ok. The EU elections will show them how right or wrong they are. Will lessons be learned ? I doubt it.

    1. James Sutherland
      April 23, 2014

      In this case, the CBI is at least getting some robust feedback to demonstrate that their political agenda is not that of all their members – something many organisations would do well to learn.

      It was a little alarming to note, though, that at least one of the former members was a government body. Is it right for parts of the government to be joining and funding politically-active entities like this? That seems rather dangerous to me, though all too common in recent years where we see government departments funding ‘charities’ which in turn lobby the government and campaign for particular political agendas (‘carbon’ obsessions, foreign aid etc).

  5. Narrow Shoulders
    April 23, 2014

    Indeed, a perfect example that the sort of scaremongering that Mr Clegg and his fellow Europhiles does not resonate with the unconverted.

    The population mostly does not comprehend how something tangible can be taken away (sterling, 3 million jobs etc.) just by disengaging from a club. Unionists and Europhiles must make their case in terms of enhancement of existing scenarios not by the doomsday fable.

    I believe the the UK has the economies of scale and established institutions to thrive outside its union with Europe but Scotland is probably too small and lacking in establishment to share the adult table. However if they wish to go as long as the UK as it will be is not disadvantaged by any settlement they go with my friendship and blessing.

    The CBI is supposed to be a collective but it appears its leader believes it to be an extention of himself. RMT, Unison are very similar.

    1. Denis Cooper
      April 23, 2014

      “to share the adult table”

      That’s nice, very complimentary to our fellow Britons who are resident in what was (arguably) a more ancient kingdom than England.

      1. Narrow Shoulders
        April 24, 2014

        To some maybe Dennis but the SNP still expect access to dad’s credit card after independence and are indicating they may not pay their share of the family’s debts. The acts of a wilful teenager methinks.

        1. Denis Cooper
          April 24, 2014

          “still expect access to dad’s credit card”

          There you go again.

          It’s not surprising that some of the Scots are so fed up with the arrogance and condescension of some of the English, not to mention the increasing tide of gratuitous abuse, that they now wish to get free from their domination.

  6. margaret brandreth-j
    April 23, 2014

    Surely the point is business will not enter into an unprofitable venture .It will take risks if it can afford to , but the argument for identity and heart leading the head ,I have yet to witness(all but in a few very small cases).
    Happy St Georges day to all.

  7. alan jutson
    April 23, 2014

    I simply do not understand the so called pre negotiation stance being taken by the Government and CBI in any of this at all.

    The very basics of any negotiation is to never give away what you would settle for in advance.
    Indeed it is often wise to not even give such information to part of your negotiation team, if it is a team that is negotiating, until you are getting near to the closing stages.

    Any self respecting salesman, purchasing professional or business owner will know that.

    You set out your stall with your demands at the start, and fight hard to get it all, and you certainly never give way first, its like a game of poker.

    There can be no higher stakes than retaining the power to run a Country, but our masters in Parliament and elsewhere seem to think it should all be friendly and nice, as if it were a simple chat with your pals.

    Who will be in our negotiation team should we ever get that far (EU or Scotland) John, guarantee it will not be people with real hard nosed business experience.

    Deeply depressing.

    1. oldtimer
      April 23, 2014

      It is what happens when you have chumps in charge.

  8. alan jutson
    April 23, 2014

    I see from press reports today that the EU is now forbidding to allow our Border Agency to ask EU arrivals how long they intend to spend here, and what they are going to do during their time here .

    I see we also are still not counting them in, we just take a random survey from a few entry points, and then guess the numbers from those figures.

    Why do we put up with this absolute nonsense.

    The figures posted are simply not accurate in any way at all.

    Can you imagine any Supermarket operating a stock control system like this.

  9. Paul
    April 23, 2014

    “For example independent Scotland could set a lower aviation tax than the rest of the UK which aviaiton busiensses would find attractive”

    They might, but it’s likely to be another tax and spend Socialist “utopia”. Salmond and his pals seem to have invented the magic money tree.

    I notice Ed Milliband and pals have not been so vocal about the wonderful Socialist paradise that is France recently ….. Hollande’s France is, IMO, the future of an Independent Scotland.

    1. jrmacclure
      April 24, 2014

      It is best if you know something about the matter before commenting. “Salmond and his pals” by which one assumes you mean the SNP which forms the majority government of Scotland has long supported lowering the APD on the contention that it hurts Scottish tourism and travel business. Certain leaders in the aviation industry have publicly stated agreement.

  10. Roger
    April 23, 2014

    Good article as ever John. The problem I have is that the PM is himself conceding that he will campaign to stay in whatever concessions he may receive through negotiation.
    If he would lay out his red lines he would recoup much support lost to UKIP.

    1. Brian Tomkinson
      April 23, 2014

      I agree with your first paragraph, but as for recouping his lost support to UKIP how on earth could he when as you say: ” he will campaign to stay in whatever concessions he may receive through negotiation”?

  11. Brian Tomkinson
    April 23, 2014

    JR: “The CBI want to negotiate a new deal with the EU, but also want to say that the UK must stay in whatever the results of the negotiation………..The CBI is out to hobble the UK before it begins discussing what a new relationship with the EU might look like.”
    Sounds exactly the same stance as your leader’s to me. That’s why many find your offer to support your party if we want to leave the EU less than convincing.

  12. Bert Young
    April 23, 2014

    I doubt that Cridland has the support from the CBI that his utterances claim . The CBI , as a body , is mainly made up of larger rather than smaller companies , many are internationally organised and owned . Smaller organisations are more entrepreneurial and seek a wider market for their products without the political influence and constraints that the larger organisations have ; they have to fight hard for their market and have to be more flexible in their management and approach . The CBI is very often ” tongue in cheek ” about what it says and where and when it says it because the ” internationalisation ” content of its members is difficult to co-ordinate on a consistent census basis . So , I would take anything from Cridland with a very large pinch of salt .

  13. a-tracy
    April 23, 2014

    I wonder what Alex Salmond believes the response will be from the other individual nation’s people if Scotland divorces from the Union? Does he expect us to mask our nations pride whilst they crow, will cannot remain being called the United Kingdom as we will no longer be united, Great Britain (GB) will no longer be viable. The English have been told as school children for so long to write our nationality down as British and not English that I do not see that this can continue either if the British Isles are split, Yugoslavia no longer exists.
    Margaret came up with a good analogy on your blog yesterday. If you want to leave the UK Scotland everything won’t remain the same, our relationship will change and you will have opened a Pandora’s box of repercussions. I’m committed to the Union I feel we are stronger together but if they choose to go…

  14. Gary
    April 23, 2014

    Free markets work best with a single currency, no tariffs and free movement of labour. That is why being in the EU is better than being out.

    However, politically the EU is sinister, but no less sinister than a union or “Special Relationship” with the USA. You only have to witness the events in Syria and the Ukraine to see that. I fear there are overlords in control who have a rapacious appetite for blood.

    1. forthurst
      April 23, 2014

      “That is why being in the EU is better than being out.”

      What about the shrinking impact of world tariffs negotiated through the WTO? What about the cost of EU Regulation which is applied to all our production? What about the loss of free trade with the Commonwealth, including cheaper food? What about the loss of our fisheries industry? What about compliance cost with the AGW hoax? What about the costs of additional infrastructure and benefits to support low wage migrants and their dependents, many of whom are fleeing the devastation of their economies inflicted by the EU? etc, etc.

      We would be better off outside the EU, the EEA, EFTA and have free trade agreements with the EEA to cover those broad product categories where there is mutual benefit. Meanwhile we could focus more on the growing economies outside the EEA rather than the proportionately shrinking economies within. The economic argument for staying in the EU gets weaker by the day and now is on the side of leaving.

      1. Gary
        April 23, 2014

        I see a lot of handwaving but no numbers. When are the Euroskeptics going to show us a proper cost – benefit with numbers?

        eg. Commonwealth free trade is not even a reality and the volume is a speck

        ” But at the moment the UK-
        Trade relations are not
        significantly stronger with the
        countries of the commonwealth.
        From the Top 10
        measured by nominal GDP,
        Britain claim in no single one an
        import (for Britain an export)
        share of more than 4%, and
        only in three countries an
        export (for Britain an import)
        share above 4%. ”

        1. forthurst
          April 24, 2014

          Of course Commonwealth trade is not as important as it was before the we joined the ‘Common Market’. That is the whole point. French farmers cannot compete with more efficient Commonwealth and British farmers so they introduced a rigged system called the CAP operating behind a high tariff wall and forced British taxpayers to subside their inefficient farmers in perpetuity. Meanwhile Commonwealth countries are mostly growing faster than the EU. Once out of the EU, we would re-establish our free trade deal.

          Meanwhile while we’re in the EU, our GDP grows slowly and our GDP per capita shrinks slowly as immigration from low wage Eastern Europe is unconstrained.

  15. A different Simon
    April 23, 2014

    John Cridland has all the hallmarks of being just another (unhelpful ed) professional politician :-

    – Arts degree at elite university : CHECK (History at Cambridge)
    – Never done a proper job : CHECK (straight to CBI from Uni)
    – No actual experience of the subjects he speaks about : CHECK (never worked one day in industry)

    The CBI are wrong on Europe , wrong on the climate change scam and shale .
    Think I’ll take the I.O.D. over that lot .

    It’s clear to see he is a real Captain of Industry . Just the sort of person to preside over an independent inquiry like Leveson , Turner and Hutton .

    The knighthood is long overdue .

    Reply I have checked that he did get a History degree at Cambridge and has spent most of his working life at the CBI. I do not know whether you are correct that he has never worked in industry.

  16. lojolondon
    April 23, 2014

    On a slightly related topic, John, I recently spent a week in Scotland.

    The hysterical headlines on ALL newspapers have to be seen to be believed, every day a new headline threatens what will happen to ordinary Scots if they leave the UK. The constant badgering is so annoying, that as a non-Scot, I would be tempted to vote yes to independence.

    Our MSM tells people one side of the story all the time.

    1. jrmacclure
      April 24, 2014

      Absolutely true. And many if not most of the scare headlines are so absurdly overblown that no one believes them and soon believes nothing the No campaign comes out with. Mind you, as a supporter of Yes, I don’t mind that but I’m not at all sure that it’s good for the country.

  17. ian wragg
    April 23, 2014

    This will be the same CBI who cajoled the government to join ERM and told us the sky would collapse if we didn’t join the Euro. They have been wrong on almost every occasion, it makes you wonder if it is staffed by Cameroon/Clegg/Millipede supporters.
    Lets see what the public have to say at the 2014/5 elections.

  18. Atlas
    April 23, 2014

    The CBI reminds me of the man-made-climate-change rent-seeking organisation that is the Royal Society, except that some of the CBI members have the guts to say ‘not in my name’ to things they don’t agree with.

  19. Brian Tomkinson
    April 23, 2014

    Speaking of “matters of belonging and identity” how about the latest government failure reported in the Telegraph:
    “The Government’s flagship border security system cannot be used to measure immigration levels because border guards are banned from asking passengers how long they intend to stay in Britain, ministers have admitted.
    The Home Office has revealed that its beleaguered eBorders project, which is expected to cost the taxpayer £1.2 billion, will provide “insufficient” data on migrant levels.
    It also highlighted how European Union rules prohibit immigration officers from asking EU residents about their travel plans – making it impossible to build a full picture of net migration. ”

    That’s government under Cameron – subservient to the EU and wasting £billions on useless IT systems!

  20. Lindsay McDougall
    April 24, 2014

    Why do we assume that the CBI is representative of British business? Perhaps it represents the sleepy well established firms that make low profits except when enjoying a monopoly or oligopoly, but not dynamic SMEs.

    I would really welcome a blog on which organisations represents what businesses operating in which countries – CBI, IoD etc. I think it is important for Eurosceptics to know this in readiness to counter the flood of FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) that will issue from the pro-EU camp when the referendum comes.

  21. Stephen O
    April 24, 2014

    Fine article, but for me it highlights the general failings of the no campaign, which has focused on the net costs to Scotland. You say it is an issue of identity and belonging, but those arguments seem to have been deployed mainly by the yes campaign.

    I have always felt both British and English. Now 90% of the population, including myself, are excluded from a vote in whether the country we grew up as part of is dismembered. Not by means of a gradually gnawed away of the fibers of the country, year by year, as the EU slowly is bringing about. Instead there is a strengthening chance that in a few years time Britain as we know it will cease to be, entirely as the results of our own homegrown politicians.

    The only politicians with any sense of feeling about identity are those intent on ending Britain. That this could come about is really a dismal failing by the political class.

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