Big business to campaign against Brexit

Britain’s big business leaders are preparing to back the prime minister and speak up for Europe once a reform deal has been struck that can be presented to voters.

The heads of some of the UK’s largest companies have agreed to make the case for European Union membership in an in-out referendum if negotiations with Brussels are successful.

The promise of corporate backing for the “in” camp comes after David Cameron said: “The voice of business must be heard. In Britain and across the Continent.”

He urged executives to argue for a “more competitive Europe” as he prepares for negotiations at next month’s summit of European leaders.

Once reforms are agreed, bosses should “help me make the case for Britain to stay”, he said.

The prime minister hopes that the intervention of business will prove as pivotal as it did during the Scottish referendum.

The informal agreement to start campaigning once the prime minister announces his European deal was struck at a CBI breakfast at the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos.

The CBI has yet to decide on a position because its membership is split, with many smaller companies supporting Brexit and most multinationals keen to stay. As a result, big businesses are expect to campaign independently but to co-ordinate their messages to make a positive case for Europe rather than scaremonger about job cuts if the UK quits.

Sir Roger Carr, the chairman of BAE Systems, said: “On the assumption that the PM brings a successful conclusion, I believe that business should be a powerful advocate for staying in Europe. We will make the positive case. If we are plugged into an improved model, it will be good for our international position.”

Douglas Flint, chairman of HSBC, said: “I think business has a responsibility to speak up on economic matters. The evidence is that Britain has benefitted from being in the EU. Britain is stronger in a reformed Europe and Europe is better with Britain.”

Goldman Sachs has given a six-figure sum to the Britain Stronger in Europe campaign. JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley and Bank of America Merrill Lynch are also thought to be ready to donate.

Today’s agenda and speakers

8am GMT A cure we can afford? Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, on medicine prices

8.15am The global debt dilemma Kenneth Rogoff, Harvard professor of economics and public policy

10am Europe at tipping point David Miliband, former foreign secretary

11am CBI lunch George Osborne

11.30am Confronting cybercrime Loretta Lynch, US attorney general

Noon Rebuilding Europe’s financial confidence Lord Hill, European commissioner for financial stability

3.30pm Violent extremism Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury

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