The campaign for Britain to leave the European Union has been backed by 250 business leaders, the Vote Leave group said on Saturday.
The Vote Leave campaign published the list of the major British industrial leaders in the hopes of countering the view that most businesses support continued U.K. membership in the EU. The list of big names in British business includes the former HSBC chief executive Michael Geoghegan, co-founder of mobile phone retailer Phones 4u John Caudwell, and hotelier Sir Rocco Forte.
“The UK’s businesses and in particular its financial services sector would thrive outside the EU if the country votes to leave,” Mr. Geoghegan told the Financial Times.
The list was released ahead of Britain’s June 23 referendum on whether to continue its membership in the European Union. The Britain Stronger in Europe and the Vote Leave sides of the debate have made the potential economic impact of a “Brexit” a core part of their respective campaigns. Both the Leave and Stay camps are battling it out to prove they have serious corporate backers, according to Reuters.
“Last month, the bosses at more than a third of Britain’s biggest companies including major oil companies Shell RDSA.L and BP (BP.L) and its largest telecoms group BT (BT.L) said leaving the EU would put jobs and investment at risk.”
As a response to pro-EU bosses urging voters to vote for remaining in the economic union, Vote Leave unveiled its own list on Saturday to counter the impression that most companies prefer to remain in the EU.
Britain Stronger expressed ridicule for the list however, pointing out it included less than half of the members of its own advisory council and that Vote Leave could not get a single major business to back it officially; those listed only supported it in a “personal capacity.” It also did not include a single FTSE 100 chief executive, in sharp contrast to their rival letter of 200 signatures, including 36 of the largest companies in Britain.
“With our growing list of business supporters, Vote Leave will make that case that whilst the EU might be good for big multinationals, for smaller businesses it acts as a job destruction regulatory machine,” Matthew Elliott, Chief Executive of Vote Leave, said to Reuters.
Vote Leave also said it planned to form a business council made up of business leaders to argue how continued EU membership would harm business. The council will be chaired by John Longworth, who resigned as director general from the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) earlier this month.
ICAS reported that while most businesses in Britain still support staying in the EU, business opinions remain divided in the U.K., with views reflecting export interests and the size of the firm in question.
“The BCC found that 59.5 percent of those surveyed are intending to vote for the U.K. to stay in the EU, while 30.1 percent are voting to leave. Business support for an EU exit has climbed by 3 percent since September. Large businesses with 250 or more employees showed the greatest amount of support for staying in the EU (74.7 percent), while small and micro-businesses are most in support of Britain leaving the EU (31.4 percent and 33.5 percent respectively). Exporting businesses are also more likely to want to stay in the EU, compared with non-exporting businesses (63.7 percent compared with 53.3 percent).”
The pound sterling fell to its lowest level in several years this week on companies and fund investors hedging on a perceived rise in the likelihood of a U.K. withdrawal from the EU, though it has since steadied. The British currency is expected to rise sharply in value compared to the dollar on a “remain” vote but expected to decline if the people of the UK vote to exit.
[Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images]