Europe News

Brexit debate steps up a gear as Cameron sets out stall

Is the CBI too pro-Europe?
Is the CBI too pro-Europe?

The tortuous process of the U.K.'s attempts to shape its relationship with the rest of the European Union has inched forward again, with its Prime Minister painting one of the clearest pictures yet of what he would want from talks to keep the UK in Europe.

Cameron told to U.K. business leaders in London Monday: "Of course we can survive outside the EU" and added "the status quo isn't enough for Britain." In a nod to the anti-EU forces within his own Conservative Party, he said that he has "no emotional attachment to the European Union institutions".

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On Tuesday, Cameron will finally write to Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, finally outlining his demands. Over the summer the U.K. leader has been criticized for not being clear enough in what he wants from other EU leaders. There are several issues likely to be addressed: the rights of non-euro zone countries as the project of binding the euro area countries closer continues; national parliaments' rights within EU law, and migrants' access to welfare payments.

While actually leaving the EU – a process dubbed "Brexit" – once seemed an extremely remote possibility, it is becoming more real by the day, with polls suggesting that the campaign to leave is gaining ground. A referendum, which has been promised by the end of 2017 as part of Cameron's election campaign, could be held in June 2016 if the December negotiations go well for the U.K., according to a report in The Times.

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Even though he denied firing the starting gun for the push to keep Britain as part of the EU, Cameron used a speech to U.K. business leaders in London Monday as an opportunity to rubbish some of the "Leave" campaign's claims. One of these euroskeptic arguments is that the U.K. would be better off in a Norway-type relationship with the EU. The so-called "Norway option" means that the U.K. would stay part of the Common Market, but have no decision-making over EU rules, some of which it would still be subject to.

Cameron was heckled by protestors opposed to the U.K.'s current place in Europe who described the CBI as the "voice of Brussels" – a notable interruption in what is usually a staid affair.

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Cameron's requested changes are likely to be "relatively modest and largely achievable," Alastair Newton, co-founder and director at Alavan Business Advisory, told CNBC.

"Realistically, as was the case with the 1975 referendum, Britain's limited leverage means that it will probably be necessary for the government to talk up modest concessions if the UK electorate is to be persuaded to vote to stay in Europe."

Meanwhile, businesses in the U.K. are concerned about the potential economic impact of Brexit.

"We want to see Europe do more of what it does well, which is open up markets. We want to see less of what it does badly, which is regulate our lifestyle and not getting behind the City of London. It needs to get behind Britain and get involved in less regulation," John Cridland, director-general of the CBI, told CNBC.