EU referendum: Leave campaign public letter sparks row over sole trader supporters

Exclusive: The public statement said that people like them 'employ the majority of the UK’s workforce'

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Indy Politics

More than half the small business leaders who put their names to a letter calling for the UK to pull out of the European Union do not run organisations that are registered as companies, an analysis of the letter’s signatories suggests.

The public statement, which was organised by Ukip-linked campaign Leave.Eu and published by The Daily Telegraph, said that people like them “employ the majority of the UK’s workforce”.

It went on to claim that “little attention” had been given to small and medium-sized enterprises in the EU debate.  

However, an analysis of the signatories on the list reveals that 119 of the companies listed do not appear on the register at Companies House.

This means they are likely to be “sole traders”, employing at most a handful of staff, and not small enterprises, which are defined as employing at least 10 members of staff. 

In addition, two of the companies listed appear to have been dissolved, while eight of the signatories were not named directors of the company they were said to represent.

The analysis was conducted by researchers linked to the Remain campaign, who said it showed it was hard to find large numbers of businesses who wanted to leave the EU .

“This letter is falling apart because the truth is most businesses – large and small – know we are better off in Europe, which is vital for British jobs, growth and investment,” said Labour MP Wes Streeting.

Last night a Leave.EU spokesman said: “It’s typical of the In campaign’s unhealthy obsession with size and tendency to power-worship that it thinks the voice of discredited mega-corporations like Goldman Sachs, which funds it, should count for more than the voices of our sole traders.” 

The row came as Downing Street was forced to insist it did not put pressure on one of the UK’s leading business organisations to suspend its leader over comments suggesting the country could have a “brighter” future outside the EU.

Number 10 said it was “surprised” by the views expressed by John Longworth, director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) and said that it “regularly” speaks to business organisations.

But a spokesman stressed that “no pressure” was put on the BCC to suspend Mr Longworth, a decision that was branded “scandalous” by Boris Johnson.

The former Tory Defence Secretary Liam Fox suggested he would ask questions in the Commons about Government’s contact with the BCC.

The Sunday Telegraph said a friend of Mr Longworth believed Downing Street had “bullied” and been “putting pressure” on the BCC board members to suspend their director-general.

Meanwhile, a survey of Conservative grassroots constituency chairman found that 40 per cent were committed to vote to leave the EU in the June 23 referendum.

Of the 128 local chairmen and chairwomen who responded to the survey, 54 said they would vote Leave and 31 backed a Remain vote. Another 43 said they had yet to make up their minds when contacted by BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend.

µ Labour’s former Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper has urged leader Jeremy Corbyn to do more EU campaigning, stating: “I hope that Jeremy will do some more things campaigning on Europe, I think it’s really important that he does.”