Former Marks & Spencer chief executive Lord Rose will attack those who want to leave the EU as “quitters” and unveil a team from the worlds of business, the military, the arts and politics to fight for an “in” vote.
The launch comes after Nicola Sturgeon warned yesterday that a UK exit could trigger “unstoppable” demands for a fresh referendum on Scottish independence. Ahead of the SNP’s annual conference later this week, she raised the prospect of Scotland opting to remain in the EU but being outvoted by the UK as a whole.
Lord Rose will dismiss the idea that there is a “patriotic” case for withdrawing from the 28-state EU at the launch of Britain Stronger In Europe in London today. Former prime ministers Sir John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown are backing the campaign. The group’s board also includes the army’s former chief of the general staff Sir Peter Wall.
Lord Rose will cite estimates from business lobby group the CBI that the benefits of trade, investment, jobs and lower prices mean membership is worth £3,000 a year on average to every UK household.
He will say: “When you consider that our annual contribution is equivalent to £340 per household, our contribution to the EU is an investment on which British families get a ten-to-one return.”
Lord Rose will say that leaving the bloc is “just not worth the risk” and would represent a “leap in the dark” for the UK’s future economic and trade prospects.
“The quitters have no idea whether we would be able to access Europe’s free trade area, or what the price of admission would be,” he will say.
“The quitters have no idea how long it would take to renegotiate existing trade deals or how difficult it would be to negotiate new ones outside the EU, let alone how inferior the terms would be.
“The quitters cannot guarantee that jobs would be safe and prices wouldn’t rise.
“The quitters cannot explain how we could stop free movement and simultaneously keep our access to the world’s largest duty-free market.”
Lord Rose will also reject the idea of a choice between patriotism and EU membership. “To claim that the patriotic course for Britain is to retreat, withdraw and become inward-looking is to misunderstand who we are as a nation,” he will say.
“I will not allow anyone to tell me I’m any less British because I believe in the strongest possible Britain for business, for our security and our society.”
Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to hold the vote by the end of 2017, but some have suggested it could happen as early as next spring.
Ms Sturgeon said there would be growing pressure for another vote on Scottish independence if the UK opted to leave the EU. She said a second independence referendum was “inevitable” but that it would be accelerated by Britain pulling out of the EU.
Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, the First Minister said: “If we do see a scenario over the next couple of years where Scotland votes to stay in the European Union but we find ourselves being taken out of the EU anyway, then that so fundamentally changes the nature of the UK that people voted to stay part of last year that I think it is very likely that we see rising demand for another referendum.
“I think we would see demand for another referendum in those circumstances perhaps be unstoppable.”
She added: “I’ve always believed, and I still believe today, Scotland will become independent and it will become independent in my lifetime.
“So if I believe that, then that will only happen through a referendum so, yes, I guess I do believe that another referendum is inevitable”
Lord Rose will announce the membership of the board of Britain Stronger In Europe today. It includes representatives from all sectors of UK society, including West Ham United vice-chairwoman and Apprentice star Karren Brady and June Sarpong, a TV presenter and panellist on ITV’s Loose Women.
However, eurosceptics have stepped up their campaign for an exit, with Ukip leader Nigel Farage suggesting the crucial issue would be whether Britain could control its own borders and remain in the EU.
He played down rifts within the “out” campaign, insisting he supported both the Leave.EU group masterminded by Ukip donor Arron Banks and the Vote Leave group.
Whichever group is designated the official “out” campaign by the Electoral Commission will enjoy advantages such as higher spending limits, campaign broadcasts, free mailshots and public funding of up to £600,000.
Mr Farage argued the two organisations were “complementary”, with one targeting the grassroots and the other dominated by “Westminster” figures.
He also suggested London mayor Boris Johnson could be persuaded to take a prominent role in the Brexit campaign. He has so far been careful to support Mr Cameron’s position of waiting to see the outcome of the renegotiation before taking sides, but many believe his private views are more hardline.
“We might just get him,” Mr Farage told Sky News. “We might just get him and he is a recognisable figure. That would be good news.”