Bosses at Greene King, Stansted Airport, BT and Hutchison Whampoa back continued membership of EU

Lord (Stuart) Rose.
Photo: Mike Ellis

Lord (Stuart) Rose. Photo: Mike Ellis - Credit: Archant

Top bosses from major East of England employers including Greene King, Stansted Airport, BT and the Port of Felxistowe are among nearly 200 business leaders to have come out in favour of the UK remaining in the European Union.

Also among the signatories of a pro-membership letter published into yesteray’s edition of The Times was former Marks & Spencer chief Stuart Rose, now Lord Rose, who has a home in Suffolk.

He is understood to have signed in his capacity at chairman of online grocer Ocado but he has already made his pro-EU views known as chairman of the Britain Stronger In Europe campaign.

Among the chief executives putting their name to the letter are Rooney Anand from Bury St Edmunds-based pubs and brewing group Greene King, Gavin Patterson of BT, which has its main research facility at Martlesham Heath, near Ipswich, and Charlie Cornish of Manchester Airports Group, which includes Stansted Airport.

The transport and logistics sectors features heavily in the list of signatories, which also includes Michael O’Leary, chief executive of Ryanair, the largest operator at Stansted, Dame Carolyn McCall, chief executive of rival low-cast airline easyJet, the chief executives of Heathrow and Gatwick airports, John Holland-Kaye and Stewart Wingate, and Christian Salbaing, deputy chairman of Hutchison Whampoa, the Hong Kong-based group behind the Port of Felxistowe and Harwich International Port.

The letter says: “Business needs unrestricted access to the European market of 500 million people in order to continue to grow, invest and create jobs.

“We believe that leaving the EU would deter investment and threaten jobs. It would put the economy at risk.”

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Also strongly represented among the supporters of the letter is the insurance sector, with the signatories including Sir Adrian Montague, chairman of Aviva, Paul Evans, group chief executive, AXA UK & Ireland, Mike Wells, group chief executive of Prudential, and Stephen Hester chief executive of RSA Insurance Financial Services.

Bosses from the world of banking to sign the letter include Stuart Gulliver, chief executive of HSBC, which has already warned of job losses in London in the event of “Brexit”, Nathan Bostock, chief executive of Santander UK and Bill Winters, chief executive of Standard Chartered, although Barclays is a noteable absentee together, more predictable, with Lloyds and Royal Bank of Scotland which both remain partly state-owned.

Other leaders of big-name companies to have signed the letter include Bob Dudley, chief executive of oil giant BP, and Ben Van Beurden, his counterpart at Royal Dutch Shell, Sir Roger Carr, chairman of BAE Systems, James Farley, president, Europe, at Ford Automotive, Dido Harding, chief executive of TalkTalk, Vittorio Colao, chief executive of Vodafone, and Paul Polman, chief executive of Unilever.

Retail bosses supporting continued EU membership include Andy Clarke, chief executive of Asda, Seb James, chief executive of Dixons Carphone, Veronique Laury, chief executive of B&Q owner Kingfisher, Marc Bolland, chief executive of Marks & Spencer and Alan Parker, chairman of Mothercare.

However, Asda’s “Big Four” supermarket rivals Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons are not on the list, perhaps influenced by the negative reponse Tesco suffered as a result of suggestions during the Scottish independence referendum campaign that its prices may rise north of the border in the event of a “yes” vote.

In all, the signatories of yesterday’s letter include leaders from 36 FTSE 100 companies, although this is short of the 50 to 80 it had previously been suggested would sign.

Stephen Britt, manging director of Suffolk-based Anchor Storage and a supporter of Business for Britain East of England, which favours “Brexit”, said: “There is nothing in the letter published in the Times that shows me that anything has changed; in fact it is a sign that the Government is panicking as the deal lacks any real support.

“We were initially told that around 80 FTSE 100 companies were signing up, it’s now just 34 and that I think says a lot about the terms of the renegotiation and whether it is a good deal for UK plc.

“I think business is divided and business people running small and medium enterprises in this region, can’t afford the millions big business spends on lobbying in Brussels. I want to take back control of who we trade with and on what terms and I go along with the 70% of SMEs who want the British Government, rather than the EU in charge of our employment law, health and safety and trade negotiations.”

Richard Tice, co-founder of the Leave.EU campaign, said: “We remember well how many large businesses and EU funded groups like the CBI said we should join the euro. How wrong they were.

“The truth is that despite the bullying of a Prime Minister who has no real business experience, it is other normal commercial factors which will determine the continued success of British businesses to invest and grow.

“Brexit will reduce unnecessary regulatory burdens and cost on business, which can be used to invest in more jobs, not less.”