Bosses at more than a third of the UK”s biggest businesses have signed a letter supporting the campaign to remain in the European Union.
Chairmen or chief executives at 36 FTSE 100 companies – including Asda, BT, Marks & Spencer, Kingfisher and Vodafone – warned a Brexit would “deter investment or threaten jobs”.
But the total number of signatories falls well short of the 50-80 that it had been suggested might back David Cameron”s deal for the UK to stay in a reformed EU.
As first reported by Sky News City Editor Mark Kleinman, some of the PM”s closest business advisers refused to sign the letter.
Members of Mr Cameron”s Business Advisory Group (BAG) who opted not to sign include Alison Brittain, chief executive of Whitbread; Jeff Fairburn, who runs the housebuilder Persimmon; Liv Garfield, the Severn Trent boss; Robert Noel, Land Securities” chief executive; Steve Varley, the UK chairman of EY; and Nigel Wilson, chief executive of Legal & General.
Tesco, Sainsbury”s and Barclays are also absent, but the chief executives of Heathrow and Gatwick airports have signed up.
The letter, which appears in The Times, says: “Business needs unrestricted access to the European market of 500 million people in order to continue to grow, invest and create jobs.
“We believe that leaving the EU would deter investment and threaten jobs. It would put the economy at risk.”
Roland Rudd, treasurer of Britain Stronger in Europe, which organised the letter with No 10″s support, told the newspaper: “This is the single biggest number of business leaders who have been willing to support staying in a reformed EU.
“What is also striking is the number who have done so on behalf of their companies as well as in a personal capacity.”
The support will be welcomed in Downing Street after a number of senior Tories – including London Mayor Boris Johnson – threw their weight behind the leave campaign.
Mr Cameron launched a scathing attack on his long-term rival in front of a packed House of Commons on Monday, telling MPs he had “no agenda” as he does not intend to stand for re-election in 2020.
The PM is due to push the case for staying in the 28-member bloc during a visit to a business later.
Meanwhile, Alan Johnson, who is leading Labour”s pro-EU campaign, will give a speech at Airbus in Bristol warning that around 50,000 manufacturing apprenticeships in the UK are dependent on exports to the EU and could be put at risk by Brexit.
:: Watch Heathrow airport CEO John Holland-Kaye on Sky News at 9.45am.