Businesses man the barricades for EU referendum battle

Captains of industry have lined up on both sides of the in/out debate.

by Rachel Savage
Last Updated: 22 Oct 2015

There isn’t even a date for the EU referendum yet. But already the campaigns on both sides are gearing up for the fight, recruiting many of the great and good of British business for the upcoming battle.

The cross-party group arguing for the UK to stay in the EU launched today with former Marks & Spencer boss Lord Stuart Rose as chairman. He’s set to brand ‘Out’ campaigners as ‘quitters’ and argue that leaving is ‘not worth the risk’, indicating that those supporting the EU are more likely to rely on economic arguments than our love of Brussels bureaucracy.

Joining Rose on the Britain Stronger in Europe board is The Apprentice judge and West Ham United vice chairwoman Baroness Karren Brady, former army chief Sir Peter Wall and TV presenter June Sarpong (marketed as the campaign's voice of youth - MT presumes they meant 10 years ago). Meanwhile, Virgin billionaire Sir Richard Branson, easyJet chief executive Carolyn McCall and Innocent Drinks co-founder Richard Reed all appeared in its cheesy launch video.

But big business names are not confined to the ‘In’ campaign. Supporters of the Vote Leave campaign include serial entrepreneur (and MT columnist) Luke Johnson, hedge fund tycoon Crispin Odey and Numis Securities CEO Oliver Hemsley. Former PA Consulting Group boss Jon Moynihan and honorary Hiscox Insurance president Robert Hiscox are among the bigwigs on its board.

Proof, if any was needed, that UK plc does not speak with one voice. British businesses may not even be overwhelmingly in favour of the single market, as is commonly thought. A survey of 6,263 Federation of Small Businesses members last month found 40.9% would vote against staying in the EU, while 10% were still undecided.

Much of what will sway those still on the fence will hinge on what David Cameron gets from his ‘renegotiation’ of the UK’s membership of the EU. He has broadly set out his aims, including cuts to red tape and limits on migrant benefits, but nothing specific has actually emerged yet from the prime minister’s love-bombing of European leaders.

Meanwhile, businesspeople that are already convinced one way or the other aren’t waiting around for Dave to give them go ahead. MT (which is broadly pro-EU) fully supports them getting their heads above the parapet to make the case for UK plc.

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