Unilever UK national manager Richard Greenhalgh has said failure to join the euro would leave him `competing with one hand tied behind my back’ when bidding against his sister companies in Europe.
Speaking from the floor during a debate on the euro at the CBI conference in Birmingham, Greenhalgh said rapid changes in many continental states meant they were now rivalling the UK in the flexibility of their labour markets. The UK was losing advantages it had enjoyed over the past 10 years, he claimed.
By being part of the euro, other countries were gaining an edge over the UK, he added. `It’s not about the level of the pound, it’s about risk,’ he said. `If we invest in manufacturing in the UK, the chairman does not know what level prices will be at in five years’ time. If he invests in Germany, he does.’
Greenhalgh’s comments echoed others cited by the pro-euro lobby over the past year, notably from major multinationals such as Ford, Toyota, Siemens and ICI.
Michael Portillo, the newly chosen Tory candidate for Kensington and Chelsea, who is backing the anti-euro Business for Sterling campaign, said the dangers Greenhalgh referred to had to be balanced by the risks of membership of the euro, including costly additional regulations. He also questioned the implications of euro membership on broader economic policy grounds, including a single European exchange rate.
`The risks are enormous. We are being asked to put the whole of the UK economy on a roulette square,’ Portillo said.
Polls among CBI members and trade bodies have been inconclusive, but the confederation has put a pro-euro spin on the results. Larger manufacturers have tended to be more pro-euro than smaller companies.