LUXEMBOURG (Reuters) - A British referendum in favour of leaving the European Union would damage the country’s business prospects, Lloyd’s of London [LOL.UL] Chief Executive Inga Beale said in Luxembourg on Wednesday.
Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged to renegotiate Britain’s ties with Europe and then give voters a referendum on European Union membership by the end of 2017, though expectations are growing that it will take place next year.
“We believe it would be bad for business. We think that open trade and being part of a bigger community is very important,” Beale said in response to a question at the annual meeting of trade body Insurance Europe.
Speaking with a stronger European voice was important as countries such as China and India become ever more powerful, Beale said.
“I would wholeheartedly welcome a stronger Europe, rather than countries becoming smaller and less important in the world on their own,” she said.
British institutions say they will find it harder to sell their products across Europe if Britain is outside the region’s single market, and many business leaders have already publicly expressed their views.
On the same conference panel in Luxembourg the president of German financial market watchdog Bafin, Felix Hufeld, said London was a hub for the insurance business. It made a crucial contribution to the industry through its people and their know-how, expertise and global networks.
“It would be absolutely disastrous to lose that from the EU point of view, so let’s try everything we can to avoid that happening,” he said. “It would be disastrous, including for the British people themselves.”
Henri de Castries, chief executive of French insurer Axa (AXAF.PA), said politicians should use the British request for reform to improve governance at European level.
“We should leverage the British request for clarification to come out with a better prioritisation and some reforms,” de Castries said.
Reporting by Jonathan Gould; editing by Susan Thomas