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Britain's Future in the EU

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CAMERON CLEGG VETO COMMONS
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The Prime Minister's actions at Brussels took a great deal of courage. He and the Foreign Secretary have been true to their convictions and the use of the veto is historic. We now need to take stock before launching any more salvoes. Relations with other member states do matter over the long term.

Speaking to Markit financial analysts in the city this week, I was struck by the number of nationalities in the room. At least ten in an audience of fifty or so executives.

Of course this is how it used to be in my last job. I was European board member responsible for a 70 million Euro healthcare business at Ogilvy & Mather. This work changed my attitude to Europe and I learned how much more could be achieved by working together rather than by trying to compete with the rest of the world on our own.

Getting back to the House, after my breakfast meeting with Markit, I was struck by the obvious fact that I now work exclusively with a British team. This fact naturally reinforces the nationalist tendency in Parliament, which is such a thorn in the side of the Prime Minister.

Add to this the strong views of some Conservative Party supporters in the country and it is evident that it is difficult for Conservative MPs who feel that Britain's future does lie in the EU to give much voice to their views.

I am concerned about the growing influence of the EU over member states. However, the world revolves around various power blocs, some loosely connected and some overlapping. North America, Europe, the Far East, the BRIC markets and, in years to come, the Next Eleven.

Note that the UK is not on this list. The British people know this instinctively, which is why they will never vote to pull out of the EU in an in/out referendum in my view.

Business and political travel has taken me to North America, Japan and the Middle East. The rest of the world see the EU first and member states second. Yes, bilateral relations with the UK, Germany and France are crucial but none matter more than the EU overall.

Many of the European directives and regulations are certainly detrimental to the UK economy (as they are to all the other member states if they but knew it) but undoubtedly the main threat is to our financial services sector which represents 11% of GDP and contributes £53 billion in tax revenues.

The Prime Minister is absolutely right to single out this sector during the negotiations this week. The idea put forward by Miliband and some of my own colleagues this week that the Prime Minister should be going in to negotiations with demands across many fronts would have been disastrous.

Britain should not be downcast about the position in which we find ourselves. Yes, it does feel a bit exposed but it was ever thus and reflects the fundamentally different view of the EU compared with the governing elites of Germany and France. The UK view is not so different, however, from public opinion in the other member states.

In the long term, the democratic deficit inherent in the deal will be its undoing. As soon as they are economically able to do so; Italy, Spain and the rest will find a way to escape from the yolk of German control over their lives and economies. That is the lesson of history and we have nothing to lose by standing apart from the melee in the meantime.

The negotiations are similar to the machinations of a marriage in crisis. There is constant debate, much distrust, and within days of an agreement on future behaviour the splits emerge again. This is how it will be in the EU for many years to come and we must stop approaching each round of negotiations as if it going to produce some lasting certainty that might be bad for Britain.