East Anglia business leaders launch campaign in Norwich for Britain to leave the EU
09:51 12 January 2016
Regional business leaders will launch a campaign today for Britain to leave the European Union in a sign that the debate over the nation’s relationship with Europe was ramping up across the east.
More than 50 business leaders in the East of England have backed Business for Britain’s (BfB) calls for far-reaching reforms of Britain’s relationship with the EU, including its reasons why businesses could “thrive” outside the European Union.
Its message will be underscored during a meeting at the Assembly Rooms in Norwich, where business chiefs will gather for a presentation and a behind-closed-doors meeting to help fuel the debate ahead of Britain’s referendum on EU membership.
The campaign – designed to give small-and-medium-sized businesses and their staff a voice – centres around claims that the UK government has given too much control of the economy to EU politicians.
According to the lobbying group, which has backed the Vote Leave campaign, EU regulation is stymieing the growth of SMEs by making it too difficult to create jobs. It has also questioned whether East Anglian businesses get a sufficient return on investment from the £1.97bn the region pays out to Europe each year.
It believes this money would be better spent within the region, funding projects that boost transport infrastructure and high-speed broadband which could help companies trade overseas.
Stronger In Europe – the pro-EU lobby group lead by the former chairman of Marks and Spencers Stuart Rose – claims the British economy will have more opportunities to grow if it remains within the EU. It also believes Britain could lose diplomatic influence and have a weaker defence strategy if the British people vote for Brexit.
It comes as research, commissioned by Business for Britain and carried out by YouGov, revealed that 27pc of firms think that the EU is making it harder for their business to employ people, with 57pc saying that being a member of the EU made no difference.
Meanwhile, 32pc of firms think that EU regulation hinders their business and 49pc want the UK to trade and cooperate with Europe without giving away permanent control over the economy to politicians they cannot vote out, according to the survey of 144 SMEs in the East of England. John May, regional chairman of BfB East of England, who has been an independent director on the boards of more than 50 companies, said big business with offices across Europe may wish to stay in the EU, but an unreformed relationship with Europe may not be in the interest of SMEs which may not even export to Europe.
“It goes back to this issue that we do send this money to the EU and we do not get back what we spend. How that money is spent is decided by the EU and not by the UK, or regional and national policy. It is about us regaining control over how that money is spent.”
He said that while people with business backgrounds often say they want more information before they make a decision about Britain’s future in the EU, many would not want Britain to join the EU now if it was outside the organisation.
“We seem to be having a debate on reforming an organisation we don’t wish to join,” he added.
David Cameron defended his plans yesterday to renegotiate ties with Brussels, insisting it would be a “great prize” for the UK to remain in a reformed European Union.
He stressed his government was “not neutral” about the outcome it desired and all members of the Cabinet were signed up to the plan.
But he acknowledged that some members of his team had “long-standing views” about Europe and would be allowed to campaign in a “personal capacity” for a British exit.
The UK’s demands are to be discussed in crunch talks involving the EU’s leaders at a summit in Brussels next month.
The in-out referendum has been promised by the end of 2017.
Luke Morris, a partner at Norwich-based chartered accountants Larking Gowen, who is campaigning with BfB on a personal capacity, said the cost of the EU has made many East Anglian businesses unsure about Britain’s future within Europe.
He said: “One of the reasons the Eastern region is a little more sceptical than the rest of the country is because we have this family business culture, which is in the DNA of business dating back to its agricultural heritage. There is this idea of prudence and protecting wealth from one generation to the next. We have an economy in the east where people are in it for the long term.
“For them there is a cost argument and what we could do with that money [if Britain was not part of Europe].”
• Business leaders backing Brexit
The chairman of Aspall cider has thrown his weight behind the campaign for Britain to leave the EU.
While campaigning in personal capacity, Barry Chevallier Guild of Suffolk-based Aspall is a high-profile business leader to have backed Business for Britain in its quest for a renegotiation of Britain’s relationship with Europe.
Other regional business chiefs on the list include: John Biggin of TruckEast and Greg Ryan of Sowerby’s Wealth Management.
Business for Britain is led by chief executive Matthew Elliott and co-chairmen Alan Halsall, chairman of Silvercross Holdings, and John Mills the founder of JML.
• Campaign to stay in
The former chairman of Marks & Spencers Stuart Rose is spearheading a group of influential business leaders who want Britain to remain in the European Union.
Lord Rose, who lives in Suffolk, unveiled Stronger in Europe’s campaign message last October, claiming that Britain would have a stronger economy, greater influence on the international stage and safer borders if it remained within the EU.
High-profiles business leaders backing the ‘in vote’ include Richard Reed, the founder of Innocent Drinks; Karren Brady, West Ham Football Club vice chairman and judge of BBC One reality show The Apprentice; and Carolyn McCall, the chief executive of easyJet.
The organisation said that Britain gets £26.5bn of investment from Europe each year, and has pointed to statistics from the Confederation of British Industry – that three million jobs in Britain are linked to trade with the rest of Europe – as a reason to stay in the EU.