Richard Branson says he’ll cut UK investments if government pushes ahead with Brexit
Ahead of launch of Virgin flights between Hong Kong and Melbourne, the entrepreneur says it ‘doesn’t make sense’ to pour money into a country that is harming itself and there are plenty of other opportunities out there
Richard Branson, one of Britain’s most successful and iconic entrepreneurs, said he’ll cut the investments in the United Kingdom by his Virgin Group of companies if the government pushes ahead with its plan to leave the European Union.
Underscoring his frustration at the British referendum to leave the EU, known as Brexit, the self-made billionaire said investing in a country that was harming itself “doesn’t make sense”.
“It doesn’t make sense to invest in a country that is going to self-inflict itself, and there are plenty of other opportunities around the world,” the 66-year-old entrepreneur said in an interview with the South China Morning Post, a day before arriving in Hong Kong on an inaugural Virgin Australia flight from Melbourne. “We’ll carry on investing in the UK but we won’t be investing as much if Brexit goes ahead.”
The frustrations of the knighted entrepreneur, who’s widely admired in his home country, underscores how the hotly contested June 2016 referendum on Britain’s place in the EU has divided the country, with 51.9 per cent of eligible voters choosing to leave the 28-member union.
Brexit proponents said it was all about the UK “taking back control” of its own destiny, making its own laws and decisions, whereas opponents warned jobs, economic growth and investment would be placed at risk.
In the vote’s immediate aftermath, the pound collapsed, forcing many businesses to bear higher costs, and consumers to bear higher prices.
More than a year on, Britain’s economic growth has slowed markedly and foreign businesses are evaluating and planning to relocate key jobs out of London for Europe, particularly in the financial sector.
British Prime Minister Theresa May’s bid to secure a bigger mandate for Brexit talks by calling an early general election last month to increase her Conservative Party’s majority backfired spectacularly and resulted in a hung parliament. And so far London has drawn a weaker hand in early negotiations with Brussels on the terms of the exit.
Branson’s frustration matters, because his Virgin-branded businesses are big employers, taxpayers and stand as symbols of Britain’s self-made entrepreneurship. His busineses, from airlines to health and financial services, had lost about a third of their value in the one year since the Brexit vote, Branson said.
But Branson, concerned by the anti-globalisation sentiment, said he was also willing to bet that the tide would turn on Britain’s opposition to the EU within 10 years without the need for a second referendum.
Citing the original referendum, which was skewed by older voters opting to leave, Branson said many of his generation would not be able to halt the turn in public opinion in a decade’s time, paving the way for a reset on Europe.
“I would be willing to forecast that if they continue withoutallowing a second referendum, within 10 years Britain will be back in the European Union again,” Branson predicted.
“A lot of people my age will have died out and young people will overwhelmingly realise what a mistake was made and they will vote to join the European Union again.
“It is just sad to see the damage that is going to be done in the meantime.”