Brexiteer Lord Bamford has waded back into the political debate, accusing the Government and lobby groups of ignoring the millions of small businesses that form the “backbone” of Britain.
In a rare interview, the boss of manufacturing giant JCB told The Sunday Telegraph that senior politicians could have anticipated the UK’s vote to quit the European Union if they had listened to views of the country’s 5.4m private and family-owned firms. He also launched a fresh attack on the CBI, calling the lobby group a “waste of time”.
It is the first time he has spoken out since publicly backing the 2017 referendum. His family-owned company – which has annual revenues of £2.6bn – abandoned the CBI last year over its anti-Brexit stance.
“The CBI is a waste of time, it didn’t represent my business or private companies,” he said. “I didn’t agree with its view on Europe.” He claimed the lobby group – and others like it – failed to promote the interests of private and smaller businesses.
“The CBI really only represents 20 companies in my view and they are multinational and not British – something like Unilever, Royal Dutch Shell,” he said.
In his support of Brexit, the peer said he represented the opinions of a huge silent majority. He admitted his stance had made him unpopular with many leading figures in commerce and the Government but addded he was “not the tiniest bit surprised” by the 51.9pc vote to quit the EU.
“Politicians and civil servants glass over when you talk about SMEs and yet they are the backbone of the country,” Lord Bamford said. The CBI hit back, saying it “speaks on behalf of 190,000 businesses of all sizes, which together employ nearly 7m people, a third of the private sector”.
“Any suggestion that the CBI doesn’t represent the diversity of British businesses is patently false,” a spokesman said, adding its president, Paul Dreschler, “chairs one of the UK’s leading family businesses”, the shipping to finances group Bibby Line.
But Lord Bamford’s views were backed by John Longworth, the former director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, who quit the body in March after saying UK businesses had a “brighter” future outside the EU. “Membership of organisations like the CBI is mostly federations rather than individual businesses,” said Mr Longworth, who is now co-chairman of campaign group Leaves Means Leave.
“They are bureaucracies or big corporations with no particular loyalty to the UK or British people.” The Federation of Small Businesses, which has successfully campaigned on several issues in the past year, including reducing business rates and National Insurance costs for members, said: “Our membership was split down the middle on the Brexit question.”