EU referendum: 250 business leaders back Brexit campaign


A group of 250 business leaders and entrepreneurs have signed up as backers of a pro-Brexit campaign ahead of the European Union referendum.

The business figures, including former HSBC chief executive Michael Geoghegan, JD Wetherspoon pub boss Tim Martin, hotelier Sir Rocco Forte and Luke Johnson - chairman of continental-style cafe chain Patisserie Valerie - have given their support to Vote Leave in a personal capacity.

The campaign group also announced that former British Chambers of Commerce director general John Longworth, who quit after indicating his support for Brexit at the business organisation's annual conference earlier this month, will take up a new role with Vote Leave.

Mr Longworth, who has been appointed chairman of Vote Leave's business council, said: "This is the most important political debate of a generation. Business is divided on the issue and it is vital the full breadth of business opinion is heard. Many firms struggle with relentless interference from the EU and rules that are stacked in the favour of a select number of businesses.

"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."

Vote Leave's chief executive Matthew Elliott said: 'We're delighted that John Longworth has agreed to chair Vote Leave's Business Council. His strong business track record and his courageous decision to share his true beliefs with voters makes him an extremely powerful voice in the EU debate."

A survey of small and medium-sized firms commissioned by the group found that 32% said the EU hinders businesses like theirs, while 25% said it helped them, 40% said it made no difference.

The YouGov study indicated that 14% of the firms believed that the EU makes it easier for their business to employ people while 31% said Brussels' rules made it harder for them to employ people, 48% said EU rules made no difference.

Mr Elliott said: "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. 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."

Remain campaigners insisted that British business supported a vote to stay in the EU in the June 23 referendum.

Britain Stronger in Europe's deputy director Lucy Thomas said: "Survey after survey have shown that businesses of all sizes and from all sectors overwhelmingly back Britain remaining in the EU.

"It is telling that Vote Leave's poll doesn't even ask the most important question about whether Britain should remain in the EU because they know most businesses - large and small - disagree with them. Instead they resort to leading questions about regulation.

"It's also telling that all those listed as backing Vote Leave are doing so in a 'personal capacity'. They clearly couldn't find a single business that officially backs their position.

"British businesses are better off in Europe as part of the world's largest free trade single market of 500 million consumers.

"It helps create jobs, brings investments and keeps prices lower. Leaving would be a leap into the unknown - risking jobs, higher prices and a weaker economy."

Business Secretary Sajid Javid said: "The evidence is absolutely clear. Every major survey of businesses, large and small, shows a clear majority of firms want to remain in the European Union - on average, eight out of 10 firms want to stay in the EU and keep Britain's full access to a single market of 500 million consumers.

"They can 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.

"Recent surveys show that eight out of 10 small businesses say Britain should remain in a reformed Europe."

BT chairman Sir Mike Rake said: "Virtually every poll in recent months has found between 60% and 90% of businesses small, medium and large want to remain in the EU, with only a small minority who want to leave.

"Whilst over regulation is acknowledged to be an issue, several studies have shown that this is in no small part due to gold-plating by UK regulators.

"Our best course is to remain in the EU, constructively engaging to improve its competitiveness."

:: YouGov surveyed 1,002 SME decision-makers online between March 14 and 21.