Former Lib Dem leader Lord Ashdown issues warning to businesses over danger of isolationism from Europe

Former Lib Dem leader Lord Ashdown tonight warned of the dangers of Britain being isolated in Europe and the far-reaching consequences it can have for businesses at all levels.

Speaking in Norwich to leading business figures from across Norfolk and Suffolk, the former European Union-United Nations high representative in Bosnia warned of the dangers for Britain if the country retreated into isolationism.

In a talk entitled 'why the world will never by the same again, and what we should do about it', Lord Ashdown warned of the danger of Britain sitting on the sidelines as the eurozone crisis continues.

And he warned that with Scottish first minister Alec Salmond looking to hold an independence referendum north of the border, there was a real danger of a 'Little England' emerging cut off not only from Europe, but the rest of the UK.

'I think it's very dangerous,' Lord Ashdown said. 'I always said that the eurozone couldn't work it if it was an economic giant but a political pygmy. The real danger, which Mr Cameron doesn't understand is the danger of isolation.

'It's almost inevitable that the 17 eurozone countries will advantage Frankfurt over the City of London with enormous consequences for this country,' he said.

And he questioned the wisdom of those who felt the best thing was for Britain to go it alone out of Europe in a world where America was 'no longer our friend of first resort' Russia was looking increasingly belligenernt and Chinese political and economic power was rising.

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'We have consistently made the wrong decisions and I fear that the Conservatives will make the wrong decisions again' he said. 'This is going to be very difficult and if the eurozone goes bad, I have great difficulty in seeing how we don't tip into a second recession, and if we do that we could tip into a depression.

But while he said he disagreed with the Conservatives on the European issue, both coalition partners were united in their view on the economy and the measures needed to tackle the deficit and restore growth.

The event at the Marble Hall in Surrey Street, was organised by Mills and Reeve, RBS, Couts and PwC.

And Lord Ashdown stressed to his audience that it was the strong networks which businesses could form across international borders which may prove to be the key opportunities in a era of economic turmoil.

'Businesses have got their noses to the grindstone and are having to make a living, but I am a politician and I can see the wider picture, ' he said. 'Norwich and Norfolk has survived in the past by being very much aware of its trading networks across the North Sea.'

James Hunter, partner at Mills and Reeve, said: 'Our day to day experiences can be quite narrowly focused on our own businesses and this gives an opportunity for people to broaden their horizons and think about things in a wider context than the day to day.'

Bob Annable, director of corporate and institutional banking at Royal Bank of Scotland, said the event gave businesses a useful understanding of how the impacts of turmoil in the markets could influence businesses locally.

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