Business tends to be pro-EU, which can obscure the fact there are many multimillion-pound employers that aren’t quite so keen on the single market. Midlands manufacturer JCB is one such company, as its bosses again took aim at Brussels bureaucracy.
‘I really don’t think it would make a blind bit of difference to trade with Europe,’ chief executive Graeme MacDonald told the Guardian, when asked if it would be better for the UK to leave an unreformed EU. ‘There has been far too much scaremongering about things like jobs. I don’t think it’s in anyone’s interest to stop trade.’
‘What is needed is a lot less red tape and bureaucracy. Some of it is costly for us and quite frankly ridiculous,’ said MacDonald, who runs JCB on behalf of the billionaire Bamford family. ‘Whether that means renegotiating or exiting, I don’t think it can carry on as it is. It’s a burden on our business and it’s easier selling to North America than to Europe sometimes.’
Leaving would be peaceful, no doubt. Sensible though? Not so much. As Lucy Thomas, the campaign director for pro-reformed EU think tank Business for New Europe, pointed out, companies ‘would still have to meet EU standards whatever they happened to be,’ as Norway and Switzerland do now.
‘We also benefit from free trade deals with over 50 countries all over the world and outside the EU we would lose all of those,’ she added. ‘Renegotiating would take years and why would global powers listen to the UK with 65 million consumers more than the EU as a bloc with 500 million?’
Another more unexpected figure who came out against JCB was shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna, who probably has more time on his hands to tweet having shocked all and sundry by pulling out of the Labour leadership race.
MacDonald and Bamford’s strident views were a helpful distraction from the digger’s not-so-strident annual results. The privately-owned company’s earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (the only publicly-released measure) slipped 3% ffrom £313m to £303m in 2014, while sales fell 6.8% yo £2.51bn.
It blamed turmoil in the Brics for the downturn: the construction equipment market fell 17% in Brazil, 27% in sanctions-hit Russia, 15% in India and 17% in China. On the other hand, the UK and US markets grew 30% and 13% respectively. You’d think JCB would rather its markets across the Channel stayed free, stable and predictable to help offset all that emerging market uncertainty, but apparently red tape is a far bigger bogeyman than a Brexit.