EU exit backed by 250 business leaders

The Brussels bombings were seen boosting the 'out' campaign

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The Independent Online

Brexit campaigners have hit back in the battle of the endorsements - unveiling a group of 250 business leaders and entrepreneurs who have signed up as backers of the campaign to leave the European Union.

In a repost to pro-EU supporters, who recently released a list of 30 FTSE companies who publicly recommended a remain vote, the main anti-European campaign group released their own list of business backers. 

The figures include the former HSBC chief executive Michael Geoghegan, JD Wetherspoon pub boss Tim Martin, the hotelier Sir Rocco Forte and Luke Johnson - chairman of continental-style cafe chain Patisserie Valerie.

The names were gathered by the campaign group Vote Leave - but in contrast to the FTSE letter all those who are involved are doing so in a personal capacity.

The campaign group also announced that the former British Chambers of Commerce director general John Longworth, who quit after indicating his support for Brexit, will take up a new role with Vote Leave.

Mr Longworth has been appointed chairman of Vote Leave's business council and claimed business was divided on the issue.

“This is the most important political debate of a generation,” he said.

“Business is divided on the issue and it is vital the full breadth of business opinion is heard. Many firms struggle with relentless interference from the EU and rules that are stacked in the favour of a select number of businesses.

“If we Vote Leave, liberated from the shackles of EU membership, jobs will be safer, Britain will be able to spend our money on our priorities and we can look forward to faster growth and greater prosperity in the future.”

A survey of small and medium-sized firms commissioned by the group found that 32 per cent said the EU hinders businesses like theirs, while 25 per cent said it helped them. The largest proportion - 40 per cent - said it made no difference.

The YouGov study indicated that 14 per cent of the firms believed that the EU makes it easier for their business to employ people while 31 per cent said Brussels’ rules made it harder for them to employ people, 48 per cent said EU rules made no difference.

Matthew Elliott Vote Leave's chief executive said: “With our growing list of business supporters, Vote Leave will make that case that whilst the EU might be good for big multinationals, for smaller businesses it acts as a job destruction regulatory machine. Brussels hinders smaller businesses, particularly those firms who can't afford to lobby Brussels to curry favour. Jobs, wages and our economy will thrive when we take back control and vote Leave.”

But Remain campaigners insisted that British business supported a vote to stay in the EU in the 23 June referendum.

Britain Stronger in Europe's deputy director Lucy Thomas said: “Survey after survey have shown that businesses of all sizes and from all sectors overwhelmingly back Britain remaining in the EU.

“It is telling that Vote Leave's poll doesn't even ask the most important question about whether Britain should remain in the EU because they know most businesses - large and small - disagree with them. Instead they resort to leading questions about regulation.

“It's also telling that all those listed as backing Vote Leave are doing so in a ‘personal capacity’. They clearly couldn't find a single business that officially backs their position.

Business Secretary, Sajid Javid, added: “The evidence is absolutely clear. Every major survey of businesses, large and small, shows a clear majority of firms want to remain in the European Union. On average, eight out of 10 firms want to stay in the EU and keep Britain's full access to a single market of 500 million consumers.”