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The moral duty of business to vocally oppose Brexit. By Henry Porter

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The moral duty of business to vocally oppose Brexit. By Henry Porter

Britain has a famous ability to distract itself during a crisis with the national obsessions of sport and royalty. Right now, as the country is pitched by hard right wing Brexiteers into an unprecedented crisis, tomorrow’s royal wedding and England’s participation in the World Cup consume the national attention, when, frankly, we should be concentrating on the very grave situation the country faces.

The wedding and World Cup are fine in themselves, but lets just remember that by the time the world cup is hoisted by the victorious team on July 15, there will be just five days of business in Parliament left before the Summer Recess. People go on holiday late July and August and pay little attention to the news. Then we are, in effect, fast-forwarded to September and the Conference Season and, a few weeks later, the all-important EU vote in the Commons

There is almost no time to drag people’s attention to the clear and present danger of Brexit – the threat it represents to livelihoods across the country and to the UK as a political entity. We cannot rely on the press, which has mostly thrown its lot in with the Brexit cult, nor, I am afraid, the BBC, whose main news site has increasingly become an entertainment channel that is almost entirely devoid of sound news judgment and the ability to lead a vital national debate.

This maybe a symptom of the institutional meltdown that Brexit has triggered in Britain and at some stage an investigation into the lamentable performance of the BBC over the last two years will be necessary. It is, by the way, a national scandal that so few of the developments on this site receive prominent coverage on the BBC, which has become obsessed with balancing pro and anti-Brexit stories to the point that it is actually suppressing news of companies transferring skills, investment and jobs to continental Europe.

With politicians on both sides of the house exhibiting similar signs of mental and moral collpase, what we need in the very short time available is leadership from people who have the power to focus the public’s mind on reality and the meaning to every household in the country of an exit from the Customs Union and the Single Market. Business must speak out.

Attending a meeting on the impacts of Brexit recently, I heard a trade expert say that business people felt they had no obligation to attack the Government’s policies on Brexit because their only duty was to their shareholders and the health of their particular enterprise. There was nothing in it for business people, he said, and many believe they will suffer reprisals if they are open about the situation.

Apart from being cowardly, this is morally wrong because business is as much a part of UK society as any other sector and it has a responsibility to employees and the wider public who have helped, with their labour and custom, to make their enterprises what they are today. It is also very much in the interests of the private sector to spend time this summer underlining the dangers of the catastrophic polices pursued by the government.

There is no better example of this self-interest than in the asset management industry, which faces serious damage to an industry that represents £8 trillion in assets when it is cut off from Europe. The pro-Remain campaigner Gina Miller, who is also member of the fund industry, recently appealed to her colleagues to “stop being quiet” about the threat to their business and the expense of moving operations abroad, and, as so often, she was right. Over half of 55 asset-management companies recently surveyed have already taken steps to strengthen their operations abroad, which of course means the loss of jobs and revenue to the treasury.

But the real point is that they will all suffer unnecessarily, along with the rest of us.

There are examples of business people speaking out – the Japanese car manufacturers have made it clear that future investment will be jeopardised if Britain leaves the Customs Union and cannot ensure frictionless trade with the rest of Europe – but these are few and far between. We need all the sectors represented on this site to come out against the government and stand up for their employees and customers. If local councils can pass motions for a vote on the deal, if educationalists and scientists can repeatedly point to the dangers of Brexit, if the health industry and agriculture can raise the alarm, business leaders should find the ethics and guts to join them. We have very little time for them to act in their own interests and for the good of the UK.

And there is one further point. It is about solidarity. Fund managers and car manufacturers can all afford to transfer the focus of their operations abroad, but there are many smaller enterprises that have no option but to stay in Britain and witness the wholesale attack on their profits and viability. Among them may be some of the great companies of the future ,which will struggle to survive.

Business owes it to itself and to the UK to vocally oppose the madness that is Brexit. And, yes, this is a moral duty.