23 Feb 2016

EU exit would damage economy, say top bosses

Heads of more than a third of the country’s biggest businesses are supporting Britain’s continued membership of the EU ahead of the June referendum.

Chairmen or chief executives of 36 FTSE 100 companies, including Asda, BT, Marks & Spencer, Kingfisher and Vodafone, said in a letter that “Brexit” would “deter investment and threaten jobs”.

But those campaigning for Britain to leave the 28-member European Union said two thirds of FTSE bosses did not sign the letter, which was organised by Britain Stronger in Europe with Downing Street’s backing.

‘Economy at risk’

The letter in the Times, which has been signed by 198 business leaders in total, says: “Business needs unrestricted access to the European market of 500 million people in order to continue to grow, invest and create jobs.

“We believe that leaving the EU would deter investment and threaten jobs. It would put the economy at risk.”

The heads of Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Barclays have not backed the letter, whose signatories include Tory donors and figures who have accepted government roles under David Cameron’s premiership, according to the Times.

British membership is also being supported by the Trades Union Congress, whose general secretary Frances O’Grady said in a separate letter to the Times that leaving would mean that ” vital workplace benefits that the EU has given us – paid holidays, extra maternity rights and better conditions for part-time workers – could be for the chop”.

The Prime Minister is hoping his renegotiation deal with other EU leaders will help convince voters to support continued membership.

But his strategy has come under intense pressure following the decision by party colleagues Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, and Michael Gove, the Justice Secretary, to campaign for an exit.

‘National fight’

Former Labour business secretary and EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson wrote in the Guardian that supporters of EU membership were now involved in “a national fight”.

Leave.EU co-founder Richard Tice said: “We remember well how many large businesses and EU-funded groups like the CBI said we should join the euro. How wrong they were.

“The truth is that despite the bullying of a prime minister who has no real business experience, it is other normal commercial factors which will determine the continued success of British businesses to invest and grow.”

The in/out referendum will be held on 23 June.