A group of 250 business leaders, including the former boss of HSBC, have added their voice to the Brexit campaign, saying that EU membership harms the UK’s economic prospects.
The Vote Leave campaign said the list of business people showed that while many of Britain’s largest companies backed staying in the EU, entrepreneurs would vote in large numbers to leave in the upcoming referendum.
Last month, the bosses of some of Britain’s biggest companies, including budget airline easyJet, defence contractor BAE Systems and oil group Shell, signed a letter in support of the UK remaining inside the European Union.
Among the high-profile supporters of quitting the EU, the Vote Leave campaign listed Michael Geoghegan, former chief executive of HSBC. However, the bank has declared itself in favour of staying in the EU and threatened to move 1,000 jobs to Paris if the vote goes in favour of Brexit.
David Ross, a founder of Carphone Warehouse – now Dixons Carphone, is another prominent supporter despite his co-founder Sir Charles Dunstone backing the remain campaign.
Sir Rocco Forte, the hotelier and son of Italian immigrants, has also put his name on the list of Brexiters, along with John Caudwell, the founder of Phones4U, economist Roger Bootle, Wetherspoons founder and chairman Tim Martin and hedge fund manager Crispin Odey. Martin recently accused David Cameron of using “Paisleyite language” and personal insults in his pro-EU arguments.
Other supporters include Pasha Khandaker, president of the Bangladesh Caterers Association, and the industrialist Damon de Laszlo, who chairs components manufacturer Harwin and the Economic Research Council, which counts other Brexit campaigners on its board such as the Labour donor John Mills and former chancellor Norman Lamont.
The campaign group said it had created new business council to be chaired by John Longworth, who caused a furore last month after resigning as director general of the British Chambers of Commerce following pro-Brexit comments, in contravention of the lobby group’s neutrality.
It said Longworth would take the campaign to small- and medium-sized businesses in response to a new poll that showed twice as many SMEs believe membership of the EU makes it harder, rather than easier, to employ staff.
The survey, commissioned by Vote Leave, also showed that a third of businesses polled believe that the EU hinders businesses.
Matthew Elliott, the campaign’s chief executive and founder of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said: ‘We’re delighted that John Longworth has agreed to chair Vote Leave’s business council.
“His strong business track record and his courageous decision to share his true beliefs with voters makes him an extremely powerful voice in the EU debate.”
Elliott said that while the EU might be good for big multinationals, “for smaller businesses it acts as a job destruction regulatory machine”.
The CBI, which is Britain’s biggest business lobby group, has recently backed EU membership, after 80% of its membership said they wanted to remain and only 5% would support Brexit.
It said the survey backed up a string of votes across the organisation’s regional and national committees in favour of continued membership.
The CBI poll came after the BCC triggered a political storm when Longworth said Britain could be better off in the long term after a split with the EU.
The leave campaign poll of 1,000 SMEs found that 14% believe that the EU makes it easier for their business to employ people while 31% believe the EU makes it harder.
More businesses (32%) said the EU hinders businesses like theirs than helps their business (25%).
Longworth said: “Many firms struggle with relentless interference from the EU and rules that are stacked in the favour of a select number of businesses.
“If we vote leave, liberated from the shackles of EU membership, jobs will be safer, Britain will be able to spend our money on our priorities and we can look forward to faster growth and greater prosperity in the future.”
This article was written by Phillip Inman, for theguardian.com on Saturday 26th March 2016 00.01 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010