'No' campaigners urge incoming CBI chief to rethink EU stance

Caroline Fairbairn Image copyright CBI

A group campaigning for the UK to leave the EU has urged the incoming leader of the Confederation of British Industry to rethink the lobby group's stance on the union.

Vote Leave, one of two exit campaigns, has previously accused the CBI of being "the voice of Brussels".

It has written to Carolyn Fairbairn about its concerns.

The CBI said she would give the letter "appropriate consideration" after she joins later this month.

The letter to Ms Fairbairn, who will replace John Cridland as director general at Britain's biggest business lobby group, is the latest move in a row between the two organisations.

Vote Leave has accused the CBI of not being critical enough of policy from the EU.

It said its analysis of CBI press releases suggested that only 1% were critical of the EU.

Two campaigns

"The CBI is not properly representing British business interests," said Vote Leave co-treasurer Peter Cruddas, who is also a Tory donor.

The CBI responded by saying: "This petty claim is simply the latest in a systematic attack from Vote Leave/Business for Britain - a single issue campaign group that wants the UK to quit the EU - and whose aim is to neutralise the CBI in the EU debate for representing the views of the majority of our members, who want the UK to remain in a reformed EU."

Vote Leave is one of two campaigns pushing for Britain to exit the EU, the other being Leave.EU.

Three Eurosceptic groups are backing Vote Leave: Conservatives for Britain, Labour Leave and Business for Britain, which wants big changes to the UK's relations with the EU and says the UK should be prepared to vote to leave if reform is not achieved by David Cameron.

'Reformed EU'

Earlier this month, Vote Leave complained to the British Polling Council about a 2013 survey that the CBI conducted with pollsters YouGov and which suggested most members would want to stay in the EU.

The CBI said the poll had been a member survey, not a poll of all British businesses. Vote Leave said this represented a climbdown from the CBI.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Carolyn Fairbairn takes over as director general from John Cridland later this month

Speaking on Monday ahead of the start of the CBI conference, Mr Cridland told the BBC most of its 190,000 members "believe Britain should be in a reformed European Union".

"We are confident the prime minister can bring home the bacon and then we will ask our members again," he said.

Businesses wanted to continue to access the EU's open markets, but without the "wrong sort of regulation", Mr Cridland said. "It's about creating more investment and jobs in Britain."

The CBI will warn at the conference that a "gloomier" global outlook will eat into economic growth in the UK next year.

It has unveiled a "modest" downgrade in its forecast for 2015, saying it expects the economy to grow by 2.4%, down from an earlier prediction of 2.6%, and by 2.6% in 2016, down from 2.8%.

The group also disclosed its first forecast for 2017, saying it expected 2.4% growth, with a gradual rise in inflation hitting household spending.

President Paul Drechsler will call on business leaders to "let their employees, communities, customers and suppliers know what the [EU in-out] referendum means for growth and jobs", in a speech to delegates.

EU funding claim

"Whilst there's no uniform view on the subject - neither within the CBI, nor among the wider business community, the majority of CBI members want to remain in a reformed EU," he will say.

"The majority of our members think that - on balance - the advantages of EU membership outweigh the disadvantages."

He will also hit back at another claim from Vote Leave that the CBI is funded by the EU.

"Our critics are saying we're EU funded… 0.6% of our income does come from the European Commission, which chooses to use our top-quality economic surveys as part of its work to collect robust economic data from across Europe," he will say.

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