Daily Telegraph: Thousands of firms have been left voiceless on Brexit

We are entering the trade association conference season. These are the same business groups who have, at best, poured cold water on our post-Brexit prospects and opportunities and, at worst, set out to sabotage Brexit and undermine democracy itself.

It is taken as read that they are “the voice of business”, they are relied upon by the media and often quoted. They set out to influence government and thus impact on the democratic process. But who are they and do they really speak for business?

During my career I have been the director general of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), claiming to have up to 100,000 business members; I was for five years chairman of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) distributive trades panel and its economic spokesman, and I have been a member of the Institute of Directors (IoD) legal committee, as it was at the time.

The CBI claim 190,000 business members and the IoD honestly admit to around 35,000 individuals who are members.

The other two groups are the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), with a claimed membership of over 200,000, and the much smaller Engineering Employers Federation (EEF).

There is a deafening silence from millions of unrepresented businesses, who may have a very different viewIt looks impressive, however, even if these claims to membership were correct, which they are not, the combined total would add up to less than one sixth of all the businesses in the UK. So even when these groups speak with one voice there is a deafening silence from millions of unrepresented businesses, who may have a very different view.

In the past this hasn’t mattered too much because business tends to agree on the big issues, with the technical matters covered by individual sector groups. But on Brexit it matters greatly because many see this very differently.

The greatest distortion of opinion has been perpetrated by the CBI. A well-funded think tank made up of a vast army of bureaucrats, they bounce policy proposals off panels made up almost exclusively of multinationals and off the president’s committee – the president, of course, being a card carrying Remainer. What of the membership? Well they have a relatively tiny number of direct members who have the power of policy, the tens of thousands of members claimed are actually members of federations, once removed from the power structure.

To read John Longworth’s piece for the Daily Telegraph in full, click here.

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