UK should get more choice in two-tier Europe

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The euro zone crisis is creating a two-track European Union, and Britain’s position in the outer tier should give it the freedom to opt out of onerous rules and protect its national interests, the CBI said.

The comments from CBI director general John Cridland added fuel to the debate over Britain’s position in Europe as prime minister David Cameron travelled to Germany to meet Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss the currency zone’s woes. In an interview ahead of the CBI’s annual conference on November 21, Cridland stressed Britain should remain at the heart of the single market and keep its place at the negotiating table of the 27-state European Union.

However, he singled out the EU Working Time Directive, which Brussels wants to renegotiate, as one item of regulation Britain should have the power to drop because it does not suit the needs of workers or employers.

“These things affect us and we need to be at the table, that doesn’t mean in the new Europe a solution for Britain has to be identical to a solution for everybody else,” Cridland said.

“If you want to go ahead with some changes to the Working Time Directive. Can we just bring this issue to a close? You do it and we won’t.”

He said a post-crisis Europe should leave behind the idea of ‘one-size-fits-all’ rules in favour of a ‘patchwork’ of options that suit countries’ needs, echoing remarks made by Cameron in a speech this week.

“It’s a practical example of what the prime minister was talking about: being good European citizens, not blocking things that others want to do, but saying in return, we’re slightly different, we have a different national interest.”

Britain has been encouraging euro zone countries to forge ahead with greater fiscal integration because a break-up of the monetary union would have disastrous consequences for the UK.

Britain does almost half its trade with the euro zone and the crisis has brought the UK to the brink of another recession.

The gloomy prospects prompted the Bank of England to restart its quantitative easing programme last month.