The Prime Minister David Cameron was plotting the campaign to keep Britain within the European Union (EU) even as he was assuring his own MPs and the country that he would recommend a leave vote if it was in Britain’s interest, a leaked letter has revealed.
The letter, sent from Serco boss Rupert Soames to Mr Cameron shows that he had already brought big businesses on board what would become ‘Project Fear’, asking them to include a warning over Brexit in their annual reports, knowing they would have to be filed before the June referendum date.
Serco has contracts from European institutions worth over £130 million a year, yet denies that its support for the Remain campaign has anything to do with wanting to secure state contracts.
But Leave campaigners have said the correspondence proves Mr Cameron is “knee deep” in conspiracy.
At the last election Mr Cameron assured the British people that his recommendation on the EU referendum question would be based entirely on the outcome of a renegotiation of British membership of the EU, suggesting that he would recommend a vote to leave if the terms of membership were not radically altered.
He maintained this position right up until the culmination of the negotiations, telling his fellow MPs on 3 February: “The question is not could Britain succeed outside the European Union, it is how will we be most successful? How will Britain be most prosperous? How will we create the most jobs? … How will we be most secure? And I’ve always said the best answers to those questions can be found within a reformed European Union.
“But let me say again, if we can’t secure these changes, I rule nothing out.”
Many saw his promise to keep an open mind as a hollow one, particularly after Mr Cameron steadfastly recommended a Remain vote despite his negotiations falling far short of meaningful reform.
Now their suspicions have been confirmed, in a letter from Mr Soames, to the Prime Minister, seen by the Daily Mail thanking him for a “very useful meeting … last week.” The letter was dated 8 February.
Soames, brother of Tory MP Nicholas Soames and grandson of Winston Churchill used the letter to lay out plans agreed between Mr Cameron and himself to mobilise big business in support of Britain remaining with the EU.
“There were two points I thought I might follow up on,” he wrote. “The first is how to mobilise corporates to look carefully at the risks Brexit represents.
“I am working with Peter Chadlington and Stuart Rose (the head of Britain Stronger in Europe) with a view to contacting FTSE 500 companies who have annual reports due for publication before June and persuading them that they should include Brexit in the list of key risks. All public companies are required to set out in their annual report an analysis of key risks.”
He then goes on to reference the Scottish ‘Project Fear,’ credited with winning the campaign to keep Scotland within the British union, writing: “During the Scottish referendum campaign we managed to garner a lot of publicity as a series of companies formally stated in their annual reports that independence for Scotland was a major risk.”
A spokesman for Serco denied there was any link between support for the EU and trying to secure state contracts, explaining: “We have contracts worth around £130million a year with European institutions such as the European Commission and the European Space Agency, and it is part of a strategy to build the business we do with European institutions.
“We believe that if Britain left the EU, it would be more difficult for us to win EU government contracts, and we regard this as a risk to the business.”