Willie Walsh, the outspoken chief executive of International Airlines Group, which owns BA, has refused to bow to demands that business leaders stay out of the debate on the UK’s future in the European Union, warning yesterday that a potential exit would be a “blow” to UK companies.
His comments come after a warning at the Conservative Party Conference from a leading Eurosceptic, John Redwood, that business leaders could face “repercussions” if they campaigned to remain in the EU ahead of 2017’s in/out referendum.
Speaking on the inaugural flight of BA’s A380 superjumbo service to Washington, Mr Walsh said: “I think Britain pulling out of the EU would be a blow to business, without question. From a business point of view it would be a mistake for the UK.”
He said there was “great surprise” from overseas about the UK debate on EU membership.
He added: “I’ll continue to voice my personal opinion. It seems a bit too straight if you say that business leaders should not talk about politics. Isn’t that the same as saying politicians should not talk about business? It would be foolish to believe that businesses or CEOs should remain silent when they’ve got something to say.”
Mr Walsh remains sceptical about a Tory promise this week to make a firm decision on airport expansion after the next election. “Politicians historically have not been brave enough to make difficult decisions and I don’t think they’ll be brave enough going forward,” he said. He believes that Heathrow will be a two-runway airport for the foreseeable future while the case for expanding Gatwick is “considerably weaker”. Sir Howard Davies’ Airports Commission will deliver its verdict following the next election.Reuse content