THE BLOG

British Business Should Ignore Sajid Javid

02/07/2015 11:43 BST | Updated 02/07/2016 10:59 BST

The newly installed Business Secretary has decided to instruct business leaders that they mustn't be campaigning for Britain to stay in the EU as that would risk undermining Mr Cameron's negotiating position ahead of the In/Out referendum. Business leaders should ignore him, keep calm and carry on campaigning.

First of all, let us be clear. This referendum has nothing to do with the national interest. It has nothing to do with improving the wealth, prosperity, identity or quality of life of British citizens. Neither does it have anything to do with how Britain projects its power, influence and values in the world. All of those things will be irreparably damaged by a British exit. This referendum is about one thing only - the narrow minded parochial interests of the Conservative Party - riven for decades by the European question and, prior to the recent election, running scared in the face of the UKIP threat. It is all about Cameron's inability to control his own party and his recurrent inability to think beyond short-term tactical responses to any political issue.

To be sure, in the last twenty years, European leaders have not covered themselves in glory. They have turned the promise of one of the most important political projects in recent history into one almighty mess. As I have argued before, the crowning moment of hubristic incompetence was the introduction of the Euro - as every Spanish, Italian, Irish, Portuguese and, especially, Greek citizen will clearly attest. A view now shared by most in Germany, France, The Netherlands, Finland, Denmark and plenty of other places. If the European project is to live up to its promise of creating prosperity for its citizens and shaping thought across the globe, it will need root and branch reform. This is a process that will take a couple of decades. It is clearly beyond the capability of the current crop of political leaders that we are currently stuck with across much of Europe - from a weakened Francois Hollande to the Angela Merkel and Wolfgang Schaüble duo who are the mirror of David Cameron and George Osborne and in their 'management by financial spreadsheet' approach to politics, their brilliance at short term political tactics and their seemingly total lack of any ability, or total disinterest, in crafting a long term strategic vision. But all these leaders will come and go, their short political life but an irrelevance to the long and rich sweep of European history.

What made Britain great and incredibly prosperous for so long was not petulant parochialism. It was its outward looking internationalism, its ability, as a small island, to shape affairs across the globe and its willingness to get involved in, and stand up to, threats both to itself and to other countries that shared its values and were its allies. In colonial and pre-colonial times, this was largely achieved through a combination of consummate diplomatic skill and military power. In the twenty-first century this can only be achieved through networked co-operation with others for which a position of influence at the core of a reformed European Union is one of the most crucial elements.

Yes, the EU is a mess and needs root and branch reform. Britain's interests are best served by full engagement in shaping those reforms and recapturing the days, not so far in the past, when its vision and its diplomatic skills shaped the world. Days when Britain had a loud voice that was heard far and wide. In that context, the upcoming 're-negotiation' and subsequent referendum are a national embarrassment. The re-negotiation is about irrelevancies and will change nothing of any import. It is about the petty concerns of a small group of inwardly focused individuals. The call for a referendum has continued to undermine British long-term influence in Europe and beyond and threatens the long-term wellbeing and prosperity of the British people.

Yes, whatever the outcome of this farcical, small-minded, Punch and Judy 're-negotiation', Britain should remain part of the EU and put itself at the centre of a long-term process of root and branch reform. The vast majority of Britain's business leaders know this which is why they are right to start campaigning for a Yes vote now, continue to do so, and to turn up the volume, right up to the day on which the British people cast their votes.

By trying to muzzle the business community within five minutes of taking office, Sajid Javid has not covered himself in glory. He has sunk to the level of the Scottish Nationalist Party that took to explicitly threatening Scotland based businesses for campaigning for the No vote that was clearly in the economic interests of the Scottish people. And he has shown that, like Boris Johnson, by focusing on his political positioning within the now riven Conservative Party, he is more interested in his own personal political career and potential future leadership ambitions, than in the economic and geo-political interests of the British people. The business community should roundly ignore him and carry on.