When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Already a subscriber? Log in .

You've reached your limit of one free article.

Get unlimited access to Worldcrunch

You can cancel anytime .


Exclusive International news coverage

Ad-free experience NEW

Weekly digital Magazine NEW

9 daily & weekly Newsletters

Access to Worldcrunch archives

Free trial

30-days free access, then $2.90
per month.

Annual Access BEST VALUE

$19.90 per year, save $14.90 compared to monthly billing.save $14.90.

Subscribe to Worldcrunch

Why Some British Businessmen Are Turning Pro-Brexit

Unlike most leaders of finance and commerce in The City, leaving the EU is not a frightening thought for the Business for Britain movement.Â

London's Millenium Bridge
London's Millenium Bridge
Marie-Hélène Martin

LONDON — It's at the Goring Hotel, a symbol of eternal England and where Kate Middleton famously spent the night before her wedding, that we meet Alan Halsall, an industry titan who looks more like a gentleman farmer with his beige blazer and plaid shirt.

Between meetings, the Eurosceptic who co-chairs Business for Britain and also heads the nursery company Silver Cross Ltd. takes some time to explain why he's so energized about the United Kingdom's impending referendum about whether to stay in or leave the European Union. Sipping his coffee, the contractor's refrain is familiar on this side of the Channel: Directives from Brussels asphyxiate companies and unnecessarily burden executives with bureaucracy and paperwork.

"We keep hearing the same people over and over about European subjects," Halsall says, implicitly targeting the BBC, his nemesis. He's not surprised that the CEOs of Nissan, BP and Goldman Sachs are content with the present situation, but he notes that plenty of other CEOs are of a different mind: small businesses in particular, and namely those that are subject to European regulatory policies even though they don't work with any EU member countries.

Restaurant owners, for instance, believe that nitpicky European policies cost them $304 million per year, and he says he's co-chairing Business for Britain to defend small businesses.

A few weeks ago, the movement was still lacking in organization and media coverage, mostly because it was overshadowed by the general election in which Prime Minister David Cameron was reelected. Halsall, 61, has been awaiting this referendum for a long time, though he's only supporting the Brexit solution should the EU governing apparatus in Brussels fail to offer the UK some concessions. "We are not the UK Independence Party, and we want to help the government," he says.

What Halsall is demanding — and he's not alone — is that relations between the EU and the UK be renegotiated. Likewise, Sir Anthony Bamford, a major donor to the Conservative Party and owner of JCB, a multinational corporation specializing in construction equipment, says that if Cameron fails to convince Brussels to renegotiate, the United Kingdom should leave the EU.

Business for Britain, which has more than 1,000 members, was launched two years ago and claims to be non-partisan, though many sympathizers are openly Conservative. Halsall explains that the group "is exclusively funded by those who support our cause."

Among its most powerful weapons is Matthew Elliot, one of Westminster's most most skilled lobbyists who has been described as a "formidable activist and propagandist." Also among the Eurosceptic elite is Ian Cheshire, CEO of multinational retail company Kingfisher, and Lord Wolfson, head of clothes retailer Next, who is a member of Open Europe, a think tank that believes the status quo isn't an option.Â

Halsall says his members are firmly grounded. "We represent companies from all over the UK," he notes. "Most of them are SME small and medium-sized enterprises, but some bigger ones as well. The SME owners have to live every day with the superimposed European decisions from high up. We want more extended free trade and a reduced political union — more authority for Westminster, not for Brussels."

Managing on their own

The group claims that nearly 65% of all legislation that has been sent to the British parliament since 1993 has been influenced by the EU. To rally even more people to its cause, the movement raises the topic of VAT (Value-Added Tax, or consumption tax). Its members believe Brussels is pressuring London to give up its low tax rates, potentially harming the purchasing power of Britons in the process. As it is, British people pay 346 euros ($381) toward the European budget each year, 110 euros ($121) more than the EU average.

Halsall is confident in Britain's ability to thrive outside of the EU, especially against the backdrop of a globalized market. He denounces the over-alarmist stance of opponents who are trying to scare Brexit supporters. "I would prefer if we stayed in the European Union, but if we do not get the reforms that we want, I'm not worried," he says. "We are the world's sixth-largest economy."

In January, the European Commission actually ranked the UK as the fifth-largest economy, while France dropped to sixth. Halsall believes commerce and free trade agreements with thriving economies such as China or India would be easier to obtain once outside of the EU. As a bonus, the country would be able to remove certain rules that he believes hinder its growth.

French protectionism

Problems don't stem exclusively from Brussels. Halsall also has beef with the French. "We had to take back all of our products, which cost us a few thousand pounds," he says. His company Silver Cross was attempting to export its high-end strollers to the French market but couldn't because of what he perceives as French protectionism.

He is certain that his strollers fit the European norms, but he couldn't get in because France threw up obstacles. "It is legal, of course," he says. "I should have known, but I thought we were engaging in free trade. It wasn't the case."

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

Migrant Lives

They Migrated From Chiapas When Opportunities Dried Up, Orchids Brought Them Home

An orchid rehabilitation project is turning a small Mexican community into a tourist magnet — and attracting far-flung locals back to their hometown.

They Migrated From Chiapas When Opportunities Dried Up, Orchids Brought Them Home

Marcos Aguilar Pérez takes care of orchids rescued from the rainforest in his backyard in Santa Rita Las Flores, Mapastepec, Chiapas, Mexico.

Adriana Alcázar González/GPJ Mexico
Adriana Alcázar González

MAPASTEPEC — Sweat cascades down Candelaria Salas Gómez’s forehead as she separates the bulbs of one of the orchids she and the other members of the Santa Rita Las Flores Community Ecotourism group have rescued from the rainforest. The group houses and protects over 1,000 orchids recovered from El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve, in the southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas, after powerful storms.

“When the storms and heavy rains end, we climb to the vicinity of the mountains and collect the orchids that have fallen from the trees. We bring them to Santa Rita, care for them, and build their strength to reintegrate them into the reserve later,” says Salas Gómez, 32, as she attaches an orchid to a clay base to help it recover.

Like magnets, the orchids of Santa Rita have exerted a pull on those who have migrated from the area due to lack of opportunity. After years away from home, Salas Gómez was one of those who returned, attracted by the community venture to rescue these flowers and exhibit them as a tourist attraction, which provides residents with an adequate income.

Keep reading...Show less

The latest