The battle over Britain’s membership of the European Union intensified across the City as two of the country’s largest employers warned that an exit would be damaging to the economy.
Vittorio Colao, the head of telecoms giant Vodafone, urged the UK to stay in the 28-member bloc and claimed that uncertainty over a “Brexit” could damage business.
His comments come as a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU looms into view – potentially moving forward to next year following the Conservatives’ election win earlier this month.
Deutsche Bank also revealed that it is reviewing whether to move swathes of its 9,000 UK staff out of the country in the event of an exit vote. The company has set up a “working group” to look at whether it would move them to Germany or another EU country.
Vodafone’s Mr Colao said: “The decision to stay or exit is clearly a political decision. It is for the British citizens to decide. But at Vodafone we are convinced that for our shareholders, customers and for the company itself, it would be good to stay in Europe and it would be good to support the creation of a single, digital market. Europe needs a large digital marketplace in order to be competitive with America and China, essentially, and it’s good for Vodafone to be a part of it.”
Mr Colao said the £60bn telecoms behemoth managed its first growth in services revenues for nearly three years in the quarter to March, up 0.1 per cent. The UK has seen growth for two quarters running and Vodafone should manage its first growth in underlying profits since 2009, with a guide figure of between £11.5bn and £12bn this year.
On the consequences of the build-up to an exit vote, he added: “Uncertainty is never good for business, although Vodafone is very large and we are in many countries inside and out of Europe so we can deal with uncertainty – it’s never good, but we can deal with it.”
The European Commission unveiled its Better Regulations proposals, which it hopes will defuse hostility from voters and complaints from businesses about regulatory red tape. The Commission says it will open its policy-making process “to further public scrutiny and input”, giving people more chance to have their say on new and existing laws.
Katja Hall, the deputy director-general of the CBI, said: “It’s no secret that business has long called for smarter regulation in Brussels to help firms grow and make Europe more competitive, and this package lays down a marker to achieve just that. Business is clear that the benefits of membership outweigh the costs. No alternative arrangement to full EU membership would offer the same access and benefits.”
Michael Spencer, the former Tory Party treasurer, played down the threat an EU referendum posed to the City. He said: “I’m not sure it’s going to have such major implications for business. I expect the country will vote to stay and then we’ll put it behind us.”
Earlier this week Lord Bamford, the chairman of the construction machinery giant JCB said the UK should not fear an exit. “We are the fifth or sixth largest economy in the world. We could exist on our own – peacefully and sensibly.”