Opinion  

Cameron’s speech a gamechanger for everyone

Kevin White

The prime minister revealed this week that he wants to renegotiate the terms of Britain’s membership and put it to the people to decide “once and for all” if we remain part of the EU - surely a very popular move with many Tory MPs, although UKIP say he has “kicked the can down the road” by not holding a vote before the next general election.

It’s clear that any renegotiation will not be a smooth journey, despite German chancellor Angela Merkel pledging to listen to Britain’s “wishes” and to help find a compromise, although our French cousins have pledged to welcome British businesses if we leave the union.

Foreign minister Laurent Fabius claimed France would “roll out the red carpet to businessmen”, despite the fact that their own tax proposals on the rich will probably mean huge swathes of London will have been colonised by the Francophones by the time a referendum is held.

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But setting aside the nationalistic fervour which will likely accompany a renegotiation and potential referendum (if the Tories actually win the next election), a more serious point that arose from Mr Cameron’s speech was on the subject of changing the conditions of Britain’s membership and repatriating powers.

Prips, Mifid, Aifmd, Ucits and the gender directive are all European initiatives which affect the financial services sector in this country, and any exit from the EU will affect the industry and even the average man on the street.

Commentators such as PwC have already warned that a UK asset management industry outside of Europe may find itself facing obstacles which are a fundamental risk to the growth of the industry, while the British Insurance Brokers Association has called for the right balance to be struck between consumer protection and a proportionate regulatory framework.

We don't yet know what effect a renegotiation will have, and whether Europe, or the voting public will buy it, but Mr Cameron’s speech on Wednesday 23 January is already a game-changer, with the consequences enthralling (or boring us) for the next five years.