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12 October 2015

Financial Times: Pro-EU In campaign launches with politicians in the shadows

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The cross-party campaign to keep Britain in the EU has officially been launched — with the politicians kept firmly in the background. Former M&S boss Lord Rose chairs the Britain Stronger in Europe movement.

Lord Rose, the former Marks & Spencer chief executive who is to chair the campaign, said it was “nonsense” to suggest it was in some way unpatriotic to campaign for Britain to stay in the union. Membership made the UK stronger and more secure, he argued.


“It is our job to inform, engage and get the facts out so that we can have a sensible debate,” he said. “We cannot reform Europe by running away.”

The emphasis among platform speakers at the launch — at a former brewery on Brick Lane, east London — was on young people, entrepreneurs and women. Only a scattering of MPs attended the event and the familiar pro-European political figures such as Lord Mandelson, Tony Blair and Ken Clarke stayed away.

Lord Ashdown, the former Liberal Democrat leader, was one of the few politicians in the audience, while ex-ambassadors and lobbyists with connections to Brussels were also maintaining a low profile. “The usual suspects are being kept out of the picture,” joked a former senior diplomat. [...]

A video shown at the start of the event, which was hosted by June Sarpong, the television presenter, featured Sir Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Group, and Carolyn McCall, the chief executive of Easyjet.

Ms Sarpong said the combination of countries in the EU allowed Britain to have the best of the efficiency of the Germans, the pragmatism of the Finns, and “the Frenchness of the French”.

The panel of speakers included Baroness Brady, David Cameron’s former small business tsar, Sir Hugh Orde, ex-president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, Stephanie Flanders, the former journalist who now works for JP Morgan, and Richard Reed, co-founder of Innocent Drinks.


At the launch event, business arguments were prominent. Innocent Drinks’ Mr Reed said his company traded in 17 countries across Europe but 80 per cent of the jobs it created were in the UK. “If you want to be part of a free trade area you have to sign up to free movement of labour,” he said. He quoted a Norwegian politician who had recently declared that “if you come out of Europe, you are run by Europe”. [...]

The In campaign gave no new details of its financial backers. Its largest donor is Lord Sainsbury of Turville, who has provided at least half of the set-up financing so far.

Full article in Financial Times (subscription required)

© Financial Times

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