The director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) was suspended last night after he called for Britain to leave the European Union (EU). John Longworth had told reporters on Thursday the UK would be better off exiting the 28-member bloc but BCC directors claim this is at odds with the view of the lobby group’s own membership.
The organisation has said it will not campaign for either side in the 23 June referendum as its membership is split.
The Financial Times reported that the group’s board held an emergency meeting to discuss how to reconcile the difference in views between Mr Longworth and many BCC members on EU membership.
Members were later told Mr Longworth had been temporarily suspended for breaching the group’s official position of neutrality, the paper added.
Following confirmation of the suspension, Christopher Mills, the UKIP business spokesman backed Mr Longworth and his right to be heard. He said:
“John Longworth may not represent the views of all of his members, however he has a fundamental right, at least for now, to express his views, views which he made clear were his own and not of the BCC.
“Freedom of speech is vital for the good functioning of both society and business and it shocking that the BCC should threaten his livelihood for expressing a point of view that is accepted by millions of ordinary people in this country.
“Many members of the BCC are supportive of the UK’s membership of the EU as it encourages wages of ordinary workers being kept down as was accepted by Lord Rose leader of the ‘In’ campaign, regardless of the consequences for hard working British families or the long term interests of the British people.”
A recent survey by the BCC of 2,000 of its members found that 60 per cent would vote to stay in the EU, while only 30 per cent would vote for the Out camp, with 10 per cent undecided.
In his speech at the BCC’s annual conference on Thursday Longworth had said the organisation was not going to campaign on either side of the EU debate but gave his “personal observations”.
“In the long run we have the capacity and capability to create a bright, if not brighter, economic future outside of the EU just as we would have done had we had the opportunity to stay in a truly reformed Europe,” he said.
Speaking to Sky News later, Mr Longworth said: “I actually went on in my speech beyond what the Chambers of Commerce believe, to talk a little bit about what my analysis of the evidence has been.
“And my analysis of the evidence is that actually, with the reforms that we received so far, the UK would be better off taking a decision to leave the European Union.”
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