Former Marks and Spencer boss Stuart Rose to lead campaign to keep Britain in EU
The concern of big businesses is that they will lose access to their main export markets.
Stuart Rose, former boss of the Marks and Spencer store chain and one of Britain’s best-known businessmen, will head the campaign to keep the country in the European Union, the "In Campaign" said as it prepared to launch its bid on Monday.
The debate about Britain’s membership in the world’s largest trading bloc is heating up, as Prime Minister David Cameron seeks to renegotiate its terms ahead of a referendum he has promised by the end of 2017.
Rose, an experienced retail executive and member of the House of Lords for the Conservative party, is likely to add a strong voice to the view held by most big British businesses that Britain is better in than out.
Similar economic concerns surrounded a vote for Scottish independence last year, which resulted in the Scots rejecting a break-up of the 300-year old union.
"I believe that Britain is stronger in Europe," Rose, who currently chairs online supermarket Ocado and also previously headed Argos, said.
"The choice in the coming referendum is between remaining stronger, safer and better off inside Europe, or taking a leap into the unknown, risking our prosperity, threatening our safety, and diminishing our influence in the world."
The concern of big businesses is that they will lose access to their main export markets and about the potential fallout for Britain’s financial services industry if Britons vote to leave the EU.
Opponents of Britain’s EU membership launched their campaign this week, saying Britain would reclaim sovereignty by leaving, showing both sides are preparing the ground for the vote.
The stakes are high for the Conservative party. It has long been riven by a conflict over Britain’s relationship with Europe that contributed to the downfall of both Margaret Thatcher and John Major, the last two Conservative prime ministers.
Opinion polls suggest voters are almost evenly split over the issue and that the debt and migrant crises in Europe may be turning some against voting for Britain to stay.
There has also been some pressure on Cameron to hold the referendum sooner rather than later to avoid the uncertainty surrounding the vote from pushing away big businesses. A similar concern was voiced by Tesco, the world’s third biggest retailer, in April.
But Cameron said he would not rush into setting a date and that the renegotiation of Britain’s ties with the EU were "hard work". He formally started them with other leaders at a meeting in Brussels in June and the issue is supposed to be discussed again in December. If a deal is achieved then, a referendum could come as early as next year.