Plumbing millionaire Charlie Mullins (pictured above) has quit Business for Britain following the group’s hasty re-positioning of itself as the driving force behind the ‘Vote Leave Take Control’ campaign, as he does not support the organisation’s new mandate to campaign for Britain to leave the European Union (EU).
Mullins is the founder and managing director of the UK’s largest independent plumbing and home services company, Pimlico Plumbers. He was a member of the Business for Britain Advisory Committee, which provided the organisation with in-depth knowledge of specific business sectors.
He has now stepped down from that role, saying: “I find myself unable to support Business For Britain due to a direct conflict with my core belief that the UK is, on balance, better off inside Europe than out.
“For all its faults, it’s the biggest single market in the world and, for me, that’s the clincher and if I’m being honest a complete ‘no-brainer’.”
Business for Britain was originally set up with a remit to support the Prime Minister David Cameron in his bid to renegotiate Britain’s treaties with the EU. Mr Cameron said he wanted looser ties with Brussels, however he has come in for widespread criticism as details of the planned renegotiation have failed to emerge. Other European leaders have also categorically ruled out treaty changes, which would have to be agreed by all 28 member states.
Panicked by the launch of rival group Leave.eu by Ukip donor Arron Banks, and keen to be named as the official ‘Out’ campaign by the Electoral Commission, Business for Britain and her sister groups ‘Conservatives for Britain’ and ‘Labour for Britain’ briskly joined forces under the banner ‘Vote Leave Take Control’. All three groups are registered to Business for Britain founder Matthew Elliott, who has long harboured ambitions to be named leader of the official ‘Out’ campaign.
But the rushed launch has not been to everyone’s tastes. Lord Harris of Peckham resigned from Business for Britain moments after the new campaign group was announced, making Mullins the second person to jump ship following the organisation’s shifting policy direction.
The pro-EU umbrella group unveiled yesterday – Britain Stronger in Europe – will by chaired by the former Marks and Spencer boss and Business for Britain alumnus, Lord Rose. As well as Lord Harris he will be joined by yet another ex-Business for Britain member, the former Kingfisher chief executive Ian Cheshire.
It is not yet known whether the haemorrhaging of Mr Elliott’s business supporters has ended.
Business for Britain insists that the decision to recommend Britain leave the EU was taken by the group over the summer when it became clear that treaty renegotiation was not on the table. The group’s website states: “Now Treaty change has been ruled out as an outcome of the renegotiation process, Business for Britain has affiliated to the ‘Vote Leave’ campaign, to ensure that a professional, mainstream campaign is ready in the event of a snap referendum.”
Embarrassingly for Elliott’s campaign, which has always sought to leave the door open to a ‘Leave’ recommendation, Mullins told LBC radio this morning that he “never had any doubts at all” that Britain should remain in, saying “we need the EU. There’s half a billion people in the EU and why would we want to close the door on trade from there? 45 per cent of our exports are done in the UK (sic); why would we not want to deal with them?”
He added: “Also I believe that they’re the biggest, um, single sort of economy in the world, isn’t it? The EU? So why would we want to come away from that?”
He conceded that the EU has its flaws, saying: “We’ve got to make some changes. Obviously we know that it’s not a perfect set up, but we normally ain’t (sic) too bad in England at getting our own way with some things, and I think if we can make some changes then we need to stay in there.”
Asked what changes he’d like to see made, Mr Mullins said he’d like to see the “working agreements” and “various other regulations” altered. He also listed “Immigration – we need to control that”, and “to keep the pound” as concerns, but said “there’s a lot of negotiation that I think David Cameron’s more than capable of doing. If he can get us a better deal in there, then I believe that’s the way forward.”
Mullins has now joined the official ‘In’ campaign headed by former Marks and Spencer’s boss Lord Rose and supported by entrepreneur Karren Brady and Green MP Caroline Lucas. The former Prime Ministers Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and John Major are also backing the campaign.