Business urged to speak out during EU referendum

Picture:  Neil Hanna
Picture: Neil Hanna
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BUSINESS leaders have issued a plea to company bosses to speak out for Britain’s membership of the European Union, warning that the case for Europe and for the free movement of labour is being drowned out by anti-immigration views.

John Cridland, director general of the Confederation of British Industry, said business leaders must “learn the lessons” of the Scottish independence referendum and not leave it to the last minute to engage with the debate.

And Terry Scuoler, chief executive of the EEF manufacturers’ organisation, warned that the European debate had become “highly irrational”, with short-term political interests put ahead of the benefits of EU membership.

The CBI is preparing a dossier of evidence to inform voters about the benefits it sees in EU membership, said Mr Cridland.

But he told the Financial Times that chief executives should also join the debate now, rather than waiting for the referendum promised for 2017 by Prime Minister David Cameron if Conservatives win next year’s general election.

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“I don’t come across a CBI member company that isn’t reliant in one way or another on the single market of labour,” Mr Cridland told the FT. “It is quite odd that the voice (of business) isn’t being heard in the debate about freedom of movement . . .(It) expects the CBI to do the heavy lifting.”

Mr Cridland said big business should reflect on the experience of the Scottish independence campaign, when companies left it to the last minute to enter the debate.

“In the latter days of the referendum . . . they found their voice, they found a voice the politicians weren’t using,” he said. “They talked about living standards. They talked about the costs to families.

“When (John Lewis chairman) Charlie Mayfield started talking about what a Waitrose bill would cost if he was not cross-subsidising in one United Kingdom . . . some of those messages got home.”

Business should mobilise early for the European debate and frame their argument in a way that “speaks to the public about the issues the public are concerned about”, he said.

Mr Scuoler urged politicians to “calm down and reflect before launching further unhelpful invective”.

He told the FT: “The current debate on our membership of the EU is becoming highly irrational and dominated by short-term political interests. The stakes are enormous and it is high time we stepped back and gave rational thought to the benefits of EU membership.”

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