British Chamber of Commerce reaffirms EU neutrality after director-general’s resignation

File photo dated 15/03/12 of John Longworth, who has resigned as leader of one of the UK's biggest b

File photo dated 15/03/12 of John Longworth, who has resigned as leader of one of the UK's biggest business groups after expressing his support for a British exit from the European Union. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Monday March 7, 2016. Longworth quit as director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) following the controversy over his suggestion the UK could have a "brighter" future outside the EU. See PA story POLITICS EU. Photo credit should read: Ian Nicholson/PA Wire - Credit: PA

The British Chamber of Commerce has moved to reassert its neutrality after the resignation of its director general over comments suggesting that Britain could be better off after a Brexit vote.

B2B event at Carrow Road. Caroline Williams. Photo: Bill Smith

B2B event at Carrow Road. Caroline Williams. Photo: Bill Smith - Credit: Bill Smith - Archant

John Longworth quit as director-general following the controversy over his suggestion that the UK could have a 'brighter' future outside the EU.

Nora Senior, president of the BCC, said: 'John Longworth and the BCC board recognise that John's personal view on the referendum is likely to create confusion regarding the BCC's neutral stance going forward. In light of this, John has taken the decision to step down as director-general and his resignation has been accepted by the board with effect from March 6, 2016.'

In a statement, the BCC said it was a non-partisan organisation and had ecided not to campaign for either side ahead of the European referendum, adding that its neutrality 'reflects the real divisions that exist in business communities across the UK'.

Caroline Williams, chief executive of Norfolk Chamber of Commerce said 'The neutrality of the Chamber network on this issue cannot be compromised.

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'Our members trust our neutrality in this debate as they do on many other issues. Our role is to articulate the information relating to both views in order for our members to be able to make a considered decision on June 23.'

Number 10 has strenuously denied claims by Brexit campaigners that it put pressure on the BCC to act following Mr Longworth's comments at the group's annual conference on Thursday.

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But advocates of UK withdrawal in the EU referendum were quick to see the hand of Prime Minister David Cameron behind the development.

Ukip MP Douglas Carswell said on Twitter: 'Well done Downing Street. You got your man. This is what Project Fear looks like. Nasty people in Number 10.'

And London Mayor Boris Johnson suggested Mr Longworth had been 'crushed by the agents of Project Fear' and paid 'quite a heavy price' for expressing optimism about the UK's future outside the EU.

The BCC statement added: 'All representatives of the BCC have the right to personal and political views on the key issues of the day. However, they are not expected to articulate these views while acting in their professional capacity, as their views could be misconstrued as representing the position of the organisation as a whole.

'The BCC will continue to use its position to reflect the varied views of the business communities it serves, articulate their concerns, and seek greater clarity and information from both sides.'

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