EU Referendum

EU referendum: 250 business leaders back exit, say campaigners

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The Vote Leave campaign group has published a list of 250 business leaders who it says support Britain leaving the EU.

The list includes former HSBC chief executive Michael Geoghegan, the founder of Phones 4u John Caudwell and the hotelier Sir Rocco Forte.

But Britain Stronger in Europe said Vote Leave could not find a business to officially back it, as those listed supported it in a "personal capacity".

A referendum on whether the UK should stay in the EU will be held on 23 June.

Last month, bosses of 36 of the largest listed companies in Britain signed a letter urging voters to remain in the EU.

Vote Leave also announced that its business council would be chaired by John Longworth, who resigned his role as director general of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) earlier this month.

The council, made up of business leaders, will talk to businesses around the country to make their argument for an EU exit.

It will make the case that EU membership is holding back British business and will initially be made up of members from the board of campaign group Business for Britain.


By Joe Lynam, BBC business correspondent

The pro-Brexit camp has striven to counter the impression that most big companies prefer to remain in the EU. A third of FTSE 100 bosses publicly supported staying in last month.

This business council, under the auspices of Vote Leave, tries to address that by bringing together entrepreneurs and former company leaders who all want Britain to quit the EU.

There are some colourful names on the list and a few well-known bosses including the former HSBC boss Michael Geoghegan, Tim Martin from JD Wetherspoon and Phones 4u founder John Caudwell.

Many, like Sir Stuart Wheeler and co-founder of Carphone Warehouse David Ross, have ties to UKIP and the Conservatives.

But there are no current FTSE 100 chief executives or chairmen and only 13 out of the 250 signatories are women - including Sir Rocco Forte's sister Olga and his niece Alex Polizzi.

Mr Longworth's resignation followed his suspension for saying the UK's long-term prospects could be "brighter" outside the EU when the BCC had an official position of neutrality on the referendum.

Mr Longworth said: "If we Vote Leave, liberated from the shackles of EU membership, jobs will be safer, Britain will be able to spend our money on our priorities and we can look forward to faster growth and greater prosperity in the future."

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Vote Leave announced its Business Council will be chaired by former BCC chief John Longworth

Matthew Elliott, Vote Leave's chief executive, said it had a "growing list of business supporters".

Mr Elliott said: "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.

"Brussels hinders smaller businesses, particularly those firms who can't afford to lobby Brussels to curry favour.

"Jobs, wages and our economy will thrive when we take back control and Vote Leave."

But Business Secretary Sajid Javid, who is supporting the Britain Stronger in Europe campaign, said businesses could see "we are stronger, safer and better-off in a reformed EU".

"Survey after survey shows that small businesses - the backbone of our economy - want to stay inside the EU rather than take a leap in the dark," he said.

Sir Michael Rake, chairman of BT and a fellow supporter of the In campaign, said the majority of businesses were in favour of staying in the EU.

And he said the Leave campaign were "not coming forward" with the recommendations of how the UK could operate if it we were to leave the union.

"Many of the options that are talked about - Norway, Switzerland, Canada - are not realistic," he said.

They "would require us to have the same commitments, the same free movement of labour, the same migration policies and pay into the budget as we currently do - without any influence."

Some of the business leaders who have signed up as backers of the Vote Leave campaign:

Emma Pullen, MD of the British Hovercraft Company

John Hoerner, former chief executive officer, Tesco Clothing UK and Central Europe

Luke Johnson, chairman of Patisserie Valerie

Jon Moulton, founder of Better Capital LLP

Rupert Hambro, director of Theo Fennell Plc

Pasha Khandaker, president of the Bangladesh Caterers Association

Damon de Laszlo, chairman of Harwin Plc

John Sclater, former president of Equitable Life

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