UK business chief resigns, accuses PM Cameron of scaremongering over EU exit

British Chambers of Commerce Director General John Longworth resigned on March 6, 2016.
British Chambers of Commerce Director General John Longworth resigned on March 6, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (REUTERS) - The former head of a prominent British business lobbying group, who quit his post because he supports Britain's exit from the European Union, accused Prime Minister David Cameron of scaremongering in comments published on Monday (March 7).

British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) director general John Longworth resigned late on Sunday after he breached the group's neutral stance on the in-out referendum to be held on June 23 by saying that the EU was incapable of meaningful reform and Britain could have a bright economic future outside the bloc.

After his resignation was announced, Mr Longworth criticised Mr Cameron, who argues Britain's national security and economic stability would be at risk if it votes to leave the 28-country trading bloc.

"It is highly irresponsible of the government of the country to be peddling hyperbole," Mr Longworth told the Daily Telegraph newspaper in an interview published on Monday. "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."

BCC president Nora Senior announced Mr Longworth's resignation, saying his personal views on the referendum were "likely to create confusion regarding the BCC's neutral stance".

Mr Longworth's comments mark the latest spat in what is becoming an increasingly divisive battle over the country's future in the EU. Polls show public opinion is finely balanced and the issue has split senior members of Mr Cameron's Cabinet, pitting him against popular London Mayor Boris Johnson.

The Sunday Telegraph earlier quoted an unnamed friend of Mr Longworth saying Mr Cameron's office had put pressure on the board to suspend him, prompting a backlash from "Out" campaigners, who said the government was trying to silence those who favour leaving the bloc.

Mr Johnson, the "Out" campaign's most high-profile backer, said it was "scandalous" that Mr Longworth had been forced to step aside for what he said was a "a passionate optimistic view".

Conservative lawmaker and former defence secretary Liam Fox, who is also campaigning for "Out", said it was inappropriate to use "the apparatus of the state" to put pressure on those expressing their personal views.

But the BCC's Senior said "no external factors" had been involved. "No politician or interest group had any influence on the BCC board decision to suspend Mr Longworth. His subsequent resignation was agreed mutually between Mr Longworth and the BCC," she said.