THE Confederation of British Industry was branded the “voice of Brussels” by Eurosceptic campaigners who disrupted its annual conference and heckled the Prime Minister during his speech to Britain’s leading business lobby.
Research from the Vote Leave campaign claimed that only 1 per cent of all CBI press releases are critical of the European Union.
The campaign said the CBI did not challenge a single one of the 2,337 new laws the EU passed - or a single one of 852 new EU court judgments issued in the year to September.
Peter Cruddas, co-treasurer of Vote Leave, said: “The CBI claims to be the ‘voice of business’ but it is more interested in promoting the EU than fighting for what is good for Britain.”
He accused the business lobby group of using “dodgy” polling to justify its pro-EU stance which is out of kilter with mainstream business opinion.
Mr Cruddas added: “They tell Ministers not to push for reform when most businesses think that the EU hinders rather than helps them.
“The CBI is funded by the EU so it is no surprise that it almost never criticises it. The CBI is not properly representing British business interests - it is the Voice of Brussels.”
Vote Leave is backed by the organisations Business for Britain, Labour Leave and Conservatives for Britain and is supported by business leaders including billionaire Phones4U entrepreneur John Caudwell, hedge fund tycoon Crispin Odey, venture capitalist Luke Johnson and former Silver Cross chairman Alan Halsall.
Hecklers claiming to be from Students for Britain, an offshoot of Vote Leave, interrupted David Cameron at the London conference by unfurling banners and chanting ‘CBI the Voice of Brussels’.
A spokesman for the CBI said: “This petty claim is simply the latest in a systematic attack from Vote Leave/Business for Britain – a single issue campaign group that wants the UK to quit the EU – and whose aim is to neutralise the CBI in the EU debate for representing the views of the majority of our members who want the UK to remain in a reformed EU.”
Britain Stronger in Europe, the main pro-EU campaign, said Vote Leave’s “grubby” protest was a sign of how desperate the Eurosceptic campaign has already become.
Will Straw, director for the In-campaign, said: “Vote Leave will now face serious questions about the conduct of their campaign, and must clarify if indeed they created a fake company in order to disrupt this event.
“Running out of arguments, Leave campaigners are resorting instead to rubbishing the process of securing reform while it is still underway. Talking down Britain’s reform prospects in Europe simply proves that Leave campaigners are not, and have never been, serious about reform.”
Paul Dreschler used his first conference speech as president of the CBI to express confidence that the Prime Minister will achieve reforms on the UK’s membership of the EU which can be supported by business.
He said the business view will be “crucial” when a referendum on the issue is held and most members of the business group wanted to remain in a reformed EU.
Mr Drechsler said: “The majority of our members think that, on balance, the advantages of EU membership outweigh the disadvantages.
“When we see the reforms the Prime Minister achieves, and expects to achieve over time, we will ask you again for your views.
“I have every confidence the Prime Minister will achieve a deal we can support.”
Mr Drechsler added that Europe was “far from perfect”, saying that regulation should be the last resort, not first response, and the UK did not want to be part of further integration.
He said that completing the single market in sectors like services and digital could boost British jobs and growth in a continent of 500m consumers.
Mr Drechsler also took a swipe at critics who have accused the CBI of being funded by the EU, saying 0.6 per cent of the group’s income came from the European Commission for its economic surveys.