'Companies will quit Britain without euro'

Big business yesterday sought to reinvigorate the debate over the euro with a warning that companies will quit Britain unless the Government gives a clear commitment to join the single currency.

The car giant Ford, Anglo-Dutch consumer goods group Unilever and Siemens UK used the Confederation of British Industry's annual conference to call for the UK to join sooner rather than later.

Sir Nick Scheele, the chief operating officer at Ford, told delegates sterling's strength against the euro wiped 25 per cent off profits on the car manufacturer's sales into the eurozone. "Producing in a sterling economy and exporting the product to a nation that deals in euros is the equivalent of paying a tax of about 25 per cent – an absolutely incredible penalty," he said.

He told delegates Britain had suffered a "hugely worrying decline" in its share of inward investment.

"The issue is for the long term because investment decisions are for a minimum of 20 years and once taken cannot be easily reversed.

"We are committed to Britain but it would be irresponsible to the company, its employees and its customers if I did not say what I think."

Richard Greenhalgh, the chairman of Unilever UK, said he was under intense pressure from currency movements.

"About 20 per cent of our business is in the UK and 80 per cent in the euro area so if we are looking where we put our investment, my Dutch colleague has a 20 per cent currency risk and I have 80 per cent.

"Long-term investment is about confidence in the future and I am fighting that battle with one hand tied behind my back. If you believe we need to be in Europe we need to get into the euro at the right rate and at the right time."

Alan Wood, the chief executive of Siemens UK, added: "We have heard from Nick Scheele the importance that Britain joins the euro sooner rather than later. I wholeheartedly support his comments – it would be good to hear them echoed by the Government."

Ian Morris, the managing director of Voss UK, a supplier to Ford, said: "When companies with the purchasing power of Ford indicate they cannot guarantee expansion or even continuance in this country unless Britain is part of the euro, then we get concerned."

While companies such as Ford are well-known supporters of euro entry, their comments are a sign that supporters of the single currency are keen to push the issue back on to the political agenda after months of being overshadowed by Iraq and domestic political tensions.

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