David Davis comments on the resignation of the British Chamber of Commerce director general over Brexit


As Reported in the Daily Mail:

An Honest Man Knifed

David Cameron was under pressure yesterday to come clean’ about Government involvement in the ousting of a pro-Brexit business boss.

John Longworth resigned last night as director general of the British Chambers of Commerce over a speech in favour of quitting the EU.

Friends say he believes Downing Street had a hand’ in his removal. Number 10 has repeatedly refused to deny that officials contacted the BCC only hours before the business group suspended him.

The friends also insist that Mr Longworth had cleared his comments in advance with BCC president Nora Senior, who is a former adviser to Labour’s Ed Balls.

Liam Fox, a Eurosceptic former defence minister, accused the Government of intimidation. I want to know what contact might have been made and what pressure might have been applied,’ he said.

If it did happen, then come clean about it

quickly. Covering up events always has worse political consequences than the events themselves.’

Boris Johnson claimed Mr Longworth had been crushed by the agents of Project Fear’ for expressing a passionate, optimistic view’. The Brexit campaigner and London mayor added: He speaks for the many small and medium-sized businesses – the lifeblood of the economy – who cannot understand why they should comply with more and more regulation over which this country has no democratic control.’

A friend of Mr Longworth said: John feels he has done everything by the book and is dismayed at what has happened.

No 10 has had a hand in this, putting pressure on the BCC board to silence him.’

The BCC had suspended Mr Longworth just 24 hours after he said Britain could create a brighter economic future for itself’ away from Brussels. He said that having analysed the evidence, and speaking in a personal capacity, his assessment was that Britain should leave.

He also criticised the Prime Minister’s renegotiation deal, saying the EU remained essentially unreformed’ and was incapable of reform’. Officially, the BCC has adopted a neutral position for the referendum.

No 10 yesterday denied it had put pressure’ on the BCC to remove Mr Longworth. But sources repeatedly failed to deny that officials had contacted the organisation to discuss his intervention.

Senior Tory David Davis said: The last thing we want to see is a witch-hunt against business leaders brave and astute enough to make the argument that Britain would be better off economically if it regained the power to strike its own trade deals and was freed of the crippling burden of red tape, costing many billions a year, imposed by Brussels.

We need to know there was no contact between ministers and their officials before Friday’s BCC board meeting that took the decision to suspend its chief.’

Mr Longworth’s intervention came at the BCC’s annual conference last week. Pro-EU cabinet ministers George Osborne and Sajid Javid both spoke at the conference on the understanding the organisation would be neutral in the referendum debate. Government sources last night acknowledged that ministers were surprised’ by Mr Longworth’s hard-hitting intervention.

But they insisted they had not pressured the BCC to remove him.

A Number 10 spokesman said: Given that 60 per cent of BCC members say they want to stay in the EU, No 10 was surprised to see the director general of the organisation come out for Brexit. We are clear no pressure was put on the BCC to suspend him.’ Matthew Elliott, chief executive of Vote Leave, praised Mr Longworth for his intervention, adding: He shouldn’t be gagged from speaking out – he’s voicing the opinion of millions of entrepreneurs across the land.’

But the intervention angered some senior BCC figures who back EU membership.

Kim Conchie, chief executive of the Cornwall Chamber of Commerce, said the overwhelming majority’ of local members were in favour of continued EU membership. He added: That’s why John Longworth was suspended, not due to any outside pressure.’

In a statement last night, the BCC claimed Mr Longworth had accepted his support of Brexit was likely to create confusion’ over the group’s official stance.

It insisted the decision to resign was mutually agreed, but said that although representatives of the BCC had the right to personal opinions, they are not expected to articulate these views while acting in their professional capacity’. John Longworth and the BCC Board recognise that John’s personal view on the referendum is likely to create confusion regarding the BCC’s neutral stance going forward,’ the statement said. In light of this, John has taken the decision to step down as director general and his resignation has been accepted by the board with effect from 6 March 2016.

No politician or interest group had any influence on the BCC Board decision.’

As reported in The Daily Telegraph:

Business chief takes aim at PM as he quits;BCC chief who resigned after speaking out against EU membership slates David Cameron’s ‘irresponsible scare stories’

The head of one of the UK’s leading business groups resigned last night, accusing David Cameron of peddling “highly irresponsible” scare stories to keep Britain in the European Union.

John Longworth quit as directorgeneral of the British Chambers of Commerce after he was suspended for speaking out in favour of leaving the EU.

His supporters have claimed that Downing Street bullied the BCC to discipline him last week over his Eurosceptic stance – an allegation that Number 10 has denied.

Last night, however, Mr Longworth decided he could not carry on in charge of the BCC network of business groups because he wanted to be free to join the campaign for Brexit.

Speaking to The Daily Telegraph, he launched a scathing attack on the Prime Minister’s campaign to keep Britain in the EU.

He accused the Government of trying to “scare” voters into staying in Europe in the referendum with misleading claims about the risks of leaving. “It is highly irresponsible of the Government of the country to be peddling hyperbole,” he said. “It is all right for the campaign groups to do it because they are promoting a particular position.

“But the Government has to be responsible. And the fact of the matter is that there is a chance that the country will vote to leave.

“If the Government keeps peddling the line that it will be a disaster if we leave, which it actually won’t be, they are going to put the country in a position where it will be damaged if we do.” He said ministers would not be able to stop stock markets and currency markets reacting badly to an Out vote because they have spent so long warning of the dangers of Brexit.

“It may work that by scaring people we don’t leave, and they will succeed. But if we do leave, that will be very irresponsible of the Government.” Mr Longworth said the Government should be neutral in the referendum.

He declined to comment on suggestions that Number 10 pressured the BCC to suspend him over his personal position against EU membership.

“I am forgoing my source of earning a living by resigning and volunteering to participate in this debate because I believe so passionately that it is important that I do this,” he said.

“The liberation that leaving the EU will give us will reap huge rewards if the Government pursues the right policies. We are going to continue to face regulations that will make UK business uncompetitive in the EU, if we stay.”

Tory MP David Davis MP, the former shadow home secretary, said: “John Longworth is the first Brexit martyr.

“It is frankly disgraceful that in the most important democratic decision in a generation that a man of his calibre should be forced to lose his career simply because he stood up for what he thought was a national interest.

“If it is proved that the Government has had any role in this whatsoever, this will be beyond scandalous.”

The BCC said it had decided not to back either the In or Out campaigns ahead of the EU referendum to be held on June 23.

Meanwhile, Mr Cameron faces a fresh row over migration as the EU’s leadership prepares to publish plans that will radically curtain Britain’s ability to deport asylum seekers.

The European Commission will, within the next fortnight, unveil plans to scrap asylum rules that allow Britain to deport around 1,000 failed claimants a year under a “first country” rule.

The commission wants to replace the Dublin procedure, which obliges asylum-seekers to stay in the first country they arrive in, with a centralised agency that divides up claims, the Financial Times reported last night.