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EU referendum: FTSE 100 bosses from Asda, BT and Nissan back pro-EU letter, but no sign of Tesco

Published 23/02/2016

Bosses at 36 FTSE 100 companies are backing the campaign to stay in Europe
Bosses at 36 FTSE 100 companies are backing the campaign to stay in Europe

Bosses at more than a third of Britain's biggest businesses have come out in support of the campaign for the country to remain in the European Union.

Asda, BT, Marks & Spencer, Kingfisher and Vodafone chiefs backed a letter warning of the risks to the economy of quitting the 28-member bloc.

Chairmen or chief executives of 36 FTSE 100 companies said a Brexit would "deter investment and threaten jobs" but the total number falls short of the 80 or 50 that it had previously been suggested would sign.

The FTSE bosses make up just over a fifth of 198 business leaders, who, in a letter to The Times said: "Business needs unrestricted access to the European market of 500 million people in order to continue to grow, invest and create jobs.

"We believe that leaving the EU would deter investment and threaten jobs. It would put the economy at risk."

The letter includes some notable absences, such as Tesco, Sainsbury's and Barclays but the chief executives of Heathrow and Gatwick have signed up.

Among the signatories are Tory donors and figures who have accepted government roles under Mr Cameron's premiership, according to The Times.

In another letter to The Times in support of Britain's EU membership, general secretary of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) Frances O'Grady said there was little positive for working people in Michael Gove's and Boris Johnson's vision for Britain outside Europe.

She said: "If the Brexit camp get their way, many vital workplace benefits that the EU has given us - paid holidays, extra maternity rights and better conditions for part-time workers - could be for the chop."

Former Labour business secretary and EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson has said the Prime Minister's renegotiation deal should not be belittled as it was a "bridge" that sceptics could walk over back towards the EU.

In an opinion piece in The Guardian he said: "Whatever we may think about how David Cameron got to this point, this is a national fight we face now, not a party one, and for Britain's sake we need to make sure that the right side wins."

The support from some of Britain's most well-known businesses will be welcomed in Downing Street as a growing number of Conservatives declared they would be backing the leave campaign.

But Mr Cameron was forced to defend using a Downing Street civil servant to lobby businesses to support the pro-EU campaign after MPs heard the letter was about to be published.

Leave.EU co-founder Richard Tice said: "We remember well how many large businesses and EU funded groups like the CBI said we should join the euro. How wrong they were.

"The truth is that despite the bullying of a prime minister who has no real business experience, it is other normal commercial factors which will determine the continued success of British businesses to invest and grow.

"Brexit will reduce unnecessary regulatory burdens and cost on business, which can be used to invest in more jobs, not less."

Car manufacturer Nissan, which employs 8,000 people in the UK, has also added its voice to the campaign to remain, saying: "Our preference as a business is, of course, that the UK stays within Europe."

Chairman and chief executive Carlos Ghosn said: "We are a global business with a strong presence in Europe. We have a rich heritage in the UK with 30 years of manufacturing and engineering presence, and remain committed to building and engineering cars in the country.

"Last year we produced more than 475,000 vehicles in the UK - 80% of which are exported.

"Our preference as a business is, of course, that the UK stays within Europe - it makes the most sense for jobs, trade and costs. For us, a position of stability is more positive than a collection of unknowns.

"However, this is ultimately a matter for the British people to decide. While we remain committed to our existing investment decisions, we will not speculate on the outcome nor what would happen in either scenario."

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