BP boss: Threat to investment if UK leaves EU

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Media captionBob Dudley: "I think it's going to be a year of two halves"

Bob Dudley has said that investment in the UK energy sector could suffer if Britain were to leave the European Union.

The chief executive of BP said that being outside the EU would be "worse" as many of the rules would still apply and Britain would be in danger of losing influence on the world stage.

He said that the EU also needed Britain, which is the fifth largest economy in the world.

And he backed the Prime Minister who he said was pushing to make the EU more competitive.

"I think many of the trade regulations would still apply even if Britain were outside of [the EU]," he told me.

"And then it would be potentially worse being outside of it.

"I think also Britain's role in the world in terms of influence - it will have more influence being a part of Europe.

"There are lots of technical tax reasons, trade flows, regulation, that would make it better for our business and the energy business in general, the oil and gas business, [if Britain] were a part of Europe."

Cameron speech

I understand that David Cameron has been speaking to businesses about being more vocal on their attitudes to Britain remaining in a reformed EU.

At a business meeting in Number 10 yesterday the issue was discussed, I am told.

The Prime Minister arrives at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, tomorrow.

Europe will be high on the agenda as Mr Cameron pushes for a deal on Britain's relationship with the EU by February.

I am told the issue will make up a large part of his speech in front of business and political leaders, including the Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte.

Mr Rutte is important, as the Netherlands presently holds the EU presidency. That makes his support for any changes vital.

I asked Mr Dudley if Britain remaining in the EU would be good for the country.

"I would say yes, most certainly.

"I would also say that I am very supportive of the Prime Minister's efforts to talk with Europe to make it more competitive.

"Because I think Europe can be more competitive [and] I think it is important for Britain as a trading partner with Europe.

"I think Europe needs Britain.

"Britain is the fifth largest economy in the world so I am reasonably hopeful of some changes and some reforms that would come about."

EU debate

As the referendum date on remaining in or leaving the EU approaches - some predict it could be held in June, other senior government figures suggest autumn - it seems that Downing Street has changed tack on encouraging businesses to speak out.

Last year, it was reported that Mr Cameron thought business leaders should hold their fire until it was clear what was on the reform agenda.

With confidence on that issue growing inside Number 10, it appears that Mr Cameron is now keener on hearing from chief executives.

Of course there are plenty of business leaders who do not believe that leaving the EU would be bad for Britain.

It could in fact open up new trade opportunities as, they argue, Britain would less shackled by EU rules.

And would become more outward looking.

Mr Dudley does not agree, and I pressed him on whether Britain leaving the EU would change BP's attitude to investing in the UK.

"I think uncertainty always changes what businesses do," he said.

"And if certain events unfolded that made it more uncertain on the future of those investments and the viability then we would have to look at it carefully.

"But right now we are are a long way from that.

"I actually believe that the Prime Minister will secure some reform and I think Britain will realise its role in the world - [it] will be more important being part of the EU."

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