Daily Mail: With hotels all over Europe you might expect him to be a Remainer but SIR ROCCO FORTE thunders… why the prophets of doom have got it so wrong

Two years ago the British people voted by a decisive margin for independence from EU rule.

Yet instead of embracing the global opportunities offered by the referendum verdict, too many ministers and mandarins now appear desperate to emasculate Brexit, keeping Britain under the governance of Brussels.

Such a fudge would be highly damaging to both the British economy and our democracy. But it seems to be the direction in which the Government is now heading.

Today, Theresa May hosts her vital summit at Chequers, where she hopes the Cabinet will agree a strategy for the final negotiations with the EU on the withdrawal deal.

By all accounts her plan, drawn up by her chief European adviser Olly Robbins, will involve the continuation of some kind of customs union, single market membership for goods, and the jurisdiction of the European Courts.

That is hardly the outcome that the electorate backed in June 2016.

One of the key arguments used by the politicians to prop up this sort of compromise is that British businesses are terrified of so-called ‘hard’ Brexit and want as close a commercial alignment with the EU as possible.

In recent days, major international firms such as Airbus, BMW and Jaguar have made just such a case.

Yet I believe that alarmism is not only unjustified but also unrepresentative of British business as a whole.

Many of the corporate lobbyists – used to decades of operating within the EU’s bureaucracy – are only thinking of their narrow, short-term vested interests instead of the long-term future of the UK.

They certainly do not speak for me and many other entrepreneurs.

As an international hotelier with a chain of 11 establishments, including three in Germany, three in Italy and one in Belgium, I might have been expected to join the corporate chorus of anxiety about Brexit.

But I feel just the opposite.

For me, the brighter prospects for Britain lie in national freedom, whereas the retention of control by Brussels will mean the shackling of enterprise and global trade. It is precisely my long experience in business that has left me so disillusioned with the EU.

Working a great deal on the continent, I have seen at first hand that excessive regulations and bureaucratic intervention have created a hostile environment for enterprise.

In many EU countries, the burden of state levies can add an additional 45 to 55 per cent to labour costs, compared to about 12 per cent in Britain.

Moreover, trade unions are dominant, as are rigid demarcation rules about which employee is allowed to perform which task.

At times, the workplace culture in parts of continental Europe reminds me of sclerotic Britain before Margaret Thatcher’s revolution.

But that is why some global businesses like the EU.

Operating in favour of the corporate giants and trade unions, the heavy-handed Brussels regime can be a vehicle for shutting down competition and stifling innovation.

The same uncompetitive spirit would be forced on Britain if we had to remain in the customs union and single market.

Other concerns voiced by the big business lobby are little more than scaremongering, like the claim that any restriction on European freedom of movement will badly hurt recruitment by British firms. This is untrue.

My family’s hotel chain hired staff from all over the world, including Europe, long before the EU was even created. We will continue to do so after Brexit, especially because so many young people from Europe want to come here to learn English.

Contrary to the hollow warnings from the pro-EU campaigners, migration controls will not mean an end to European migration. Just look at the U.S., which has tough border controls and visa requirements, yet has the highest level of legal immigration in the developed world.

Big business representatives also frequently express their disquiet that Britain could ‘crash out’ of the EU without a deal, and therefore would be forced to operate on World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules. But the dangers of such a scenario have been wildly exaggerated.

More than half of our total exports, made up of commerce outside the EU, are traded under WTO rules. There are no cries of anguish from those exporters, no long queues of lorries or great hold-ups at ports. The narrative of doom is misplaced.

WTO rules will work in Britain’s favour post-Brexit, because they are based on legal requirements which ban arbitrary discrimination against a particular country’s goods, and also insist on seamless customs procedures.

Is the EU or the UK seriously going to ignore the WTO system and act in defiance of international law? Ah, cry the anti-Brexiteers, but traders may have to pay tariffs on goods if Britain leaves the EU without an agreement. But at worst, average customs duties will amount to just 3 to 4 per cent. That’s a figure dwarfed by the 15 per cent devaluation in sterling against the Euro since the referendum, a shift that’s provided a massive boost for exports.

In any case, it is within the remit of the British Government not to levy any tariffs on EU goods coming into this country: we could even adopt unilateral free trade.

Big businesses should be making those arguments rather than seeking to undermine the democratic verdict of the electorate.

Britain’s position is far stronger than the pro-EU lobby pretends. There is no reason for any defeatism.

We are the sixth largest economy in the world, a global cultural force and a major military power. Our huge financial contributions to Brussels, amounting to 11 per cent of the entire EU budget, should give us tremendous leverage in negotiations. So should the EU’s £100 billion trade surplus with us.

It is not in the interests of any European exporters – from Italian fashion houses to German car makers – to lessen that trade. The business imperative on all sides is for a sensible deal.

The business lobbying groups, particularly the Confederation of British Industry, are wrong about Brexit, just as they have been hopelessly wrong on so many other policies in the past.

In the 1970s, they were in favour of state control of industrial strategy and appeasement of the unions. In the early 1980s, they were strongly opposed to Margaret Thatcher, a stance that angered me because I recognised that she was trying to free businesses.

In the same vein, they have been wrong about us joining the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, the single currency and Project Fear. Confounding their grim recent forecasts about a recession in the event of a Leave vote, the economy has boomed, manufacturing is at a record high, and unemployment at a record low.

They keep getting it wrong on European policy because they are not the authentic voice of British business.

Swayed too often by the global conglomerates, they ignore the small and medium-sized companies that are the backbone of the domestic economy.

For all the noise about the EU, it should be recognised that businesses representing 88 per cent of Britain’s GDP are not involved in trade with Europe at all, even though they have to follow Brussels’ rules and regulations.

One recent survey by the accountancy firm Grant Thornton showed that a large proportion of British businesses are totally unconcerned about the effects of Brexit and have made no special preparations to deal with them.

In their demand for continued alignment with the EU, what the Europhile lobbyists ignore is Brussels’ obsession with achieving full political integration.

The whole purpose of the European Project is to create a federal entity through the abolition of national identities. The single market, free movement and the Euro are all political, not economic, instruments to achieve the goal of ‘ever-closer union’.

That’s why if Britain remains tied to Brussels, British sovereignty will continue to be dramatically eroded.

The pro-EU advocates like to speak of ‘our national interest’, but that is a delusion. In the long term, there will be no British nation at all if we remain in the EU’s bureaucratic empire.

Alternatively, national freedom beckons if the Government seizes the moment and truly liberates us from the bureaucratic and undemocratic monster of the EU.

Theresa May is in a difficult position, with no Parliamentary majority and a divided Cabinet. But the one sure way she can rebuild her authority is by implementing the decision of the British people.

To read Sir Rocco Forte’s piece for the Daily Mail in full, click here.

sign up to our Newsletter