The Telegraph yesterday published a letter purporting to emanate from 300 Business Leaders in support of voting to leave the European Union. The Brexit camp exploded all over social media in frantic triumphalism. “What do you say to that?” taunted thousands of delighted Ukippers.
Let me tell you what I say to that: It is utter codswallop in every way imaginable. It is a cynical and mendacious attempt to manipulate the public, which shamefully has been boosted by a right wing media who appear to not have bothered to read past the title.
In terms of content, the letter has nothing to offer the debate. It is all about how Britain is terrific and could be even more so outside the EU. There are two fatal flaws with this:
First, the current strength of the British economy has been achieved with the UK as part of the European Union. No evidence or even theoretical rationale is offered as to why things would improve outside the Union.
Second, the future projections which the letter cites in support are all based on older forecasts which assume membership of the EU. The letter claims, for instance, that Britain, “on current projections, will overtake Germany to become Europe’s powerhouse.” This is based on a CEBR forecast which speculated that this could happen by the 2030s. With growth and productivity slowing this theory has come in for severe criticism.
Forecasts, of course, have been revised downwards by every major economic authority since then, with the CBI only yesterday reporting that even the mere prospect of Brexit has already damaged the economy. The Brexit camp have of course rushed to rubbish all such forecasts as the result of conspiracy or incompetence, most notably Iain Duncan Smith during his meltdown-of-an-interview on the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme. Except the one claiming Britain will overtake Germany, obviously. That one is right.
The Brexit camp is always keen to emphasise that there are risks attached to continued membership because of the ongoing Eurozone crisis. They simultaneously point out that post-exit the UK would continue to trade with its biggest market, the EU, as if nothing had happened. But, if the UK’s business relationship with the EU is to continue unchanged, how precisely is its economy shielded from the effects of the Eurozone crisis – made significantly worse by Brexit – merely by stepping out of the union?
This has never been satisfactorily explained. The truth is that Brexit would severely damage the economic recovery of the entire continent and the UK economy would feel the full effect of that damage, whether as a member of the EU or not. This is the Catch-22 that the Brexit camp simply cannot explain away. In short, the effects of the continental crisis will continue to affect the UK, whether it chooses to participate in a solution or exacerbate the crisis by sitting on the sidelines jeering. The latter seems to me an entirely negative approach.
WHO ARE THESE BUSINESS LEADERS?
And then we come to the signatories of the letter. Knowing that the Telegraph has form, when it comes to letters signed by business – remember the fiasco of the letter from 3000 small businesses supporting the Conservatives last year? – I decided to scratch the surface a little. The Telegraph itself declares them to be “Business Leaders”. It was echoed by Sky News. The Express picked up the ball and inflated it to “Top Business Leaders”. Others have taken it further and transformed them to “over 300 CEOs”.
They are nothing of the sort. This is a clear and cynical attempt to deceive voters.
A cursory glance at the list reveals at least four dozen names who formerly held a position within a company. Several “former director” and “co-founder” are to be found. The suggestion is that they represent the organisations listed next to their name, but this is patently not true. And the distinction is significant.
Take “Peter Goldstein, Co-Founder, Superdrug Stores” for instance. Superdrug was acquired in 1988 by Kingfisher plc and has been sold on several times since. The Goldsteins left Superdrug in 1990. Here is someone implicitly claiming to represent an organisation in which he has had no involvement in 26 years. The current owners of Superdrug incidentally, Hutchinson Whampoa, have explicitly supported remaining in the EU.
A closer inspection of merely the first twenty names on the list, reveals a dozen businesses which according to Companies House are so small as to be exempt from filing full accounts (A1 Labour Supply, Kay Alexander Ltd., Awan Consulting or Ballantynes of Walkerburn for instance), the owner of an opticians (Arun Ahluwalia), the owner of a small hotel on The Isle of Wight (John Amor), a husband and wife associated with small businesses in the same group (Arabella and Johnnie Arkwright), a father and son similarly separately listed (Neville and Nigel Baxter), a sole trader who makes sticky toffee puddings (Oliver Barton), Douglas Carswell’s agent (Diane Banks), the farmer Jeremy Bagge (infamous as the head of the “Turnip Taliban”), a Ukip member’s website set up to sell his own book (books2buybooks2write), people like Andrew Allum not even listed in the leadership team of the company they claim to represent, people who no longer hold any position in the company next to which they are listed (Patrick Barbour) and dormant companies (Bymed Surgical).
Unsurprisingly, almost every name on the list appears in the Business for Britain website, recently baptised the Business Council of Vote Leave.
I found this out in twenty minutes just by looking at the first twenty names on the list. And so, if the Telegraph, Sky News, the Express or ZeroHedge have not found this out, I suggest it is because they did not care to look; because “300 top business leaders support Brexit” fits in with their own agenda.
This is not to disparage the business acumen of an hotelier or a farmer. I am not suggesting that in the least. One must attach the correct weight to their view, however. The notion that the stark warnings issued by the Governor of The Bank of England, the CBI and the IMF, that the clear support for remaining in the EU expressed by BP, Asda, BT and Airbus are somehow equally counterweighted by the view of a small optician and Douglas Carswell’s agent is risible. The idea that this collection of people represents “300 business leaders” is clearly bunkum.
The list is, however, very revealing. It reveals the utter desperation of the Brexit campaign. A list of 300 Business Leaders who agree with any viable economic position should not be difficult to put together. If you have to pad it out with friends, family, former directors, dormant companies and pudding makers, it may signify – I respectfully suggest – that your economic case is not viable.
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