Should businesses follow David Cameron's wish and stay quiet on EU referendum?

Prime Minister David Cameron is reportedly keen for businesses to avoid speaking out in favour of Britain staying in the EU. PRWeek asked three PR professionals whether this was realistic.

Cameron: Reportedly wants pro-EU businesses to keep schtum (Credit: ZUMA/REX Shutterstock)
Cameron: Reportedly wants pro-EU businesses to keep schtum (Credit: ZUMA/REX Shutterstock)

Yesterday, the Financial Times reported that the PM and his advisers were "urging the UK’s business leaders not to speak out in favour of the country remaining in the EU for fear they will jeopardise the Prime Minister’s sensitive renegotiation of Britain’s terms of membership ahead of a referendum".

The PM is currently negotiating a revised relationship between Britain and Brussels, but it is suggested that if many businesses express support for Britain staying in the EU, then other EU leaders will have no reason to hand any concessions to Cameron.

The FT quoted one "ally of Mr Cameron" as saying the Government wanted businesses to "shut up until a deal is done with the EU".

The Downing Street press office declined to comment on the story, but three PRs have given their views.

Gavin Devine, CEO of MHP, said that businesses had a "legitimate right to be heard" and that the Government should not try to shut them up. "The Government’s warning to the business community to stay silent as the Prime Minister negotiates with the EU is as misguided as it is naïve," he said.

Devine added: "Not many business leaders are arguing for staying in at any price but, even if they were, I doubt that any of our European allies would believe that this was the settled view of the British population, let alone our media or the Conservative Party."

Lucy Thomas, campaign director at Business for New Europe, which campaigns for Britain to "retain and enhance the economic benefits it derives from EU membership", according to its website, also rejected the Government's message.

She said: "It’s understable that Number 10 is focusing on the process of reform, but the idea that businesses shouldn’t be free to explain the potential risks they face is not realistic."

However, Stephen Day, managing director and chair of the public affairs practice at Burson-Marsteller, said he understood the Prime Minister's stance, saying Cameron was in a difficult position having to "do every bit of negotiations in the public eye.

"I think there is no harm in this message getting out now. I don’t think it is naïve, I think it is sensible," he said.

Day also said that he believed the referendum, which has been promised before the end of 2017, would take place in April next year.

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