Business for Britain
15 years ago, I was asked to run a new organisation called Business for Sterling. Formed by a small group of the country's leading entrepreneurs, its aim was to stop Britain from joining the euro.
It's easy to forget that, at the time, there was huge pressure for our country to join. The Confederation for British Industry claimed to speak for businesses and was pushing hard for entry. They said that currency stability and reduced transaction costs would help firms.
But they ignored the dangers of losing control of monetary policy with interest rates fixed by the European Central Bank. Business for Sterling grew in strength and successfully made the economic case for remaining outside the Eurozone.
Today, few of the politicians and business leaders who argued so strongly that we'd be left behind if we didn't join the single currency admit it, or call for us to join now. The problems in the Eurozone are manifest, with a record 19 million people (12 per cent) out of work.
Our recovery has undoubtedly been hindered by the downturn on our doorstep, because the Eurozone remains our principal export market. But we would be in a far worse state if we'd lost control of a principal lever in our economy. We have far lower unemployment, for instance.
This week saw the launch of a successor campaign to the one I led. Backed by 500 executives from companies large and small, including a number locally, Business for Britain will press for a new deal with the rest of the EU.
The group believes that, far from being a threat to our economic interests, a flexible, competitive Europe, with more powers devolved from Brussels, is essential for growth, jobs and access to markets.
This is what I have always argued for. And the referendum pledged by the Prime Minister will offer the opportunity of renegotiation. People will then be given the choice of whether to stay in a reformed European Union or leave.
We can rightly assert our national interest in Europe. The Prime Minister exercised the veto and successfully demanded cuts in the EU Budget.
But making the case for less cost and regulation isn't xenophobic. It's in everybody's interests for Europe to reform. Countries like China and India are powering ahead. We either compete successfully in the global race, or face long term decline.