* Group backs Cameron's call for new British role in Europe
* More than 500 business figures support campaign
* They want looser ties; debate widens before 2015 vote
* PM's pledge to claw back powers angered EU leaders
By Peter Griffiths
LONDON, April 22 Prime Minister David Cameron
won the support of 500 business leaders on Monday in his
campaign to renegotiate Britain's ties with the European Union,
a political gamble that has infuriated some of the bloc's
Business for Britain, a new lobby group, said it backed
Cameron's plan to repatriate powers from Brussels and hold a
referendum on Britain's EU membership, provided his Conservative
Party wins the next election.
France and Germany have attacked Cameron's stance, saying
they will block any attempts by London to "cherry pick" EU
policy. The United States has said it wants Britain to remain
inside the EU.
Other business groups say the referendum pledge risks
creating uncertainty that will deter investment, isolate Britain
and stifle the stagnant British economy.
However, the new lobby group said cutting regulation,
scrapping a planned financial transaction tax and allowing
looser ties between its 27 members would benefit Britain and
boost growth across a continent shaken by a debt crisis.
"Many would have you believe that business doesn't want
politicians to try and renegotiate a better deal from Europe,"
said Alan Halsall, the group's co-chair and chairman of Silver
Cross, a company that makes baby products. "Jobs and economic
growth depend on a more flexible, looser relationship with the
Since Cameron came to power in 2010, the long and bitter
debate over Britain's place in Europe has resurfaced. Groups on
both sides of the argument have begun drawing up battle lines
before an election due in 2015.
Cameron, who wants to stay inside the EU, trails the Labour
Party in the polls and is threatened by the UK Independence
Party, an increasingly popular anti-EU group wooing disgruntled
The British leader is under pressure to appease Conservative
lawmakers who want him to take a tougher line with Brussels,
seen by euro sceptics as a wasteful, interfering bureaucracy
eroding British sovereignty.
On the other side of the debate, the pro-EU camp says close
ties with the EU, Britain's biggest trading partner, are vital
at a time of intense global competition.
Among the 500 signatories of a letter sent by Business for
Britain to newspapers to launch its campaign were Simon Wolfson,
chief executive of retailer Next Plc ; Stuart Rose,
chairman of online retailer Ocado Group Plc, and
Richard Burrows, chairman of British American Tobacco Plc
Business for Britain describes itself as an independent,
cross-party group funded by donations from business supporters.
A poll last week for the British Chambers of Commerce, a
lobby group that represents more than 100,000 companies,
suggested some support for the group's position.
Nearly two-thirds of those polled (64 percent) said
Britain's economic prospects would improve if it stayed inside
the EU on renegotiated terms.
Sixty percent said withdrawal would be bad for business and
the economy; 18 percent said it would have a positive impact.