Brexit would be 'abyss of uncertainty and risk', business group warns

A vote to leave the European Union would amount to a step into an “abyss of uncertainty and risk”, the chairman of the manufacturers’ organisation EEF is to warn.

As more big businesses throw their weight behind the UK’s membership of the EU, Martin Temple will say political leaders should stand up to populists who want to use the EU as a “whipping post”.

The EEF’s strongly worded intervention will be welcomed by No 10, which faced criticism that it was reviving the “project fear” tactics of the Scottish referendum after it helped drum up support for a pro-EU letter by business leaders sent to the Times. The letter, signed by nearly 200 leaders from businesses employing more than 1.2 million people, warned that leaving the EU would “deter investment, threaten jobs and put the economy at risk”.

Temple will tell the EEF annual dinner: “The EU is a useful whipping post for populists but the facts of our economic lives in Britain are European. The job of our elected politicians is to commit themselves to using the power and influence they have to make it work better, rather than make excuses about the limitations they face, and simply giving up and taking us out into an abyss of uncertainty and risk.

“The great risk of leaving is that our country would be economically poorer. Being in the EU gives us certainty, whereas those who argue we should leave can only offer uncertainty and risk with few, if any, real tangible benefits.”

The EEF is to release research, conducted by GfK, which shows that 61% of its members are in favour of EU membership. The survey found that 81% of its members say EU membership makes it easier to start exporting although 72% say red tape hampers their business.

Temple intervened as Nissan, Toyota and Whitbread voiced their support for the pro-EU business leaders who wrote to the Times.

Carlos Ghosn, the Nissan chairman and chief executive, said: “Our preference as a business is, of course, that the UK stays within Europe – it makes the most sense for jobs, trade and costs. For us, a position of stability is more positive than a collection of unknowns. However, this is ultimately a matter for the British people to decide.”

Johan van Zyl, the president and chief executive of Toyota Motor Europe, said: “We are committed to our people and investments, so we are concerned that leaving would create additional business challenges. As a result we believe continued British membership of the EU is best for our operations and their long term competitiveness.”

The board of Whitbread said: “The uncertainty arising from a vote to exit and the subsequent potentially lengthy negotiations could negatively affect consumer confidence and the general economic outlook in the UK, which would be both unwelcome and potentially damaging to our business. On this basis, we believe that Whitbread’s best interests are served by remaining within the EU.”

Matthew Elliott, the chief executive of Vote Leave, said: “Today’s claims are yet another example of project fear ... So long as we remain a member of the EU we lack the power to strike our own trade deals with countries like China and India and we can’t do anything to remove the weekly £600m of EU red tape that holds Britain’s businesses back. The safer option is to Vote Leave so we can take control of our own trade deals and reduce the burden on UK plc.” © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010