Leaving the European Union (EU) would not necessarily damage the UK economy, a leading British businessman has said.
Responding to yesterday’s letter in The Times from pro-EU business leaders, fund manager Neil Woodford said it was pure speculation whether leaving the EU would harm British businesses.
He told the BBC there was no credible economic argument for or against Britain staying in the EU, and the debate must instead focus on political matters such as immigration and sovereignty.
This is also backed up but by an article on his firm’s website, which concludes that estimates of the impact of “Brexit” vary wildly from a 9 per cent loss of GDP to a 10 per cent increase.
His comments come after just 36 FTSE 100 chief executives signed a government-backed open letter calling for Britain to stay in the EU.
Initial reports suggested up to 80 top business leaders could sign the letter, drafted by civil servants before the Prime Minister had even finished negotiations, but in the end less than half that number put their names down.
Peter Hargreaves, the head of Hargreaves Lansdowne, one of the companies that refused to sign the letter, told the Financial Times last year: “The europhiles accuse the eurosceptics of a scare campaign but it’s the other way round. This fear that suddenly we will lose millions of jobs and millions of pounds in trade is utter bunkum.”
The chief executives of leading high street retailer Next and supermarket chains Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Tesco were also conspicuous by their absence from the letter.
A spokesman for Tesco said: “The referendum on EU membership is a decision for the people of Britain. Whatever that decision is, our focus will continue to be on serving customers.”
Mr Woodford is regarded as one of Britain’s most visionary fund managers. Previously working for investment firm Invesco Perpetual, he rose to prominence for taking a long-term view on investments.
Most notably, he refused to invest in the so-called “dot-com bubble” which burst in the 2000s, leading to the ruination of other investors.
Last year, he set up his own firm, Woodford Investment Management.