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Businesses Pick Sides Amid EU Referendum Announcement

David Cameron’s recent announcement that he’s secured a deal with the rest of the European Union for a special UK centric range of powers has the starting gun for the EU Referendum. It’s likely to be scheduled for June, at which point the UK population will have to decide the fate of the nation; to remain in the EU, or to leave?

The deal that Mr. Cameron stuck means that there’s now an exemption to ‘ever closer union’ between the UK and EU and a ‘red card’ mechanism by which a commission proposal can be blocked if 55% of national parliaments agree. There’s also a four-year ‘emergency break’ on in-work benefits, a guarantee that the Pound will not be attacked and will be supported by the European central bank and the promise to cut red tape.

To some, those concessions from Europe show their determination to keep the UK within the European Union, whilst to others it’s too little and too late. The battle lines are now drawn, with Mr. Cameron, Corbyn and Farron are on team ‘IN’ whilst Boris Johnson, Farage and others are on the side of ‘OUT’. The real heavyweights though come in the form of the UK’s large businesses, who are lining up to join one camp or the other. Let’s see who’s in and who’s out:

IN

The bosses at more than a third of Britain’s biggest companies said on Tuesday that leaving the European Union would put the economy at risk in an open letter published in The Times. They include the likes of BT, Vodafone, Marks & Spencer, O2, British Aerospace, Burberry and EasyJet who signed the letter to say that an EU exit would deter investment in the UK. Further polls suggested that only 5% of members of the Institute of Directors backed the ‘out’ camp.

It echoes a move made by a number of large businesses during the Scottish Independence referendum. If you recall, a number of the businesses that signed that letter were attacked by ‘out’ campaigners, who said they’d boycott their services for wading into personal political matters.

Campaigners for ‘out’ point that two thirds of FTSE 100 firms haven’t backed the letter. The likes of Tesco and Sainsbury’s have refused to comment on the debate, saying that it’s a matter for the British people to decide on.

OUT

The official Leave.EU website cites a number of small, nonspecific businesses as in favour of an EU exit, clearly positioning their movement as a popular, working class movement rather than a big business led affair. They include the opinions of plumbers, directors of construction companies and more. Jim Mellon, a fund manager who is helping to finance the ‘Out’ campaign said that the signatories of the above letter were mostly people who has “crawled their way up the corporate ladder”, rather than “true entrepreneurs” who had started new businesses.

Only time will tell whether the Leave campaign can muster the kind of business support that the ‘stay’ camp have, but regardless, they’ll keep up their suggestion that the UK can gain more favourable trade deals outside of Europe than in it.

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