Downing St reception used to goad business chiefs into action

Downing St reception used to urge business chiefs into action

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It was at a reception at Downing Street on Monday evening that the prime minister issued a “call to arms” from Britain’s top executives to galvanise business into action over Scottish independence.

David Cameron evoked Britain’s defeat of Hitler in the second world war as he spoke to an audience of more than 100 business leaders of the need to fight to keep the UK together.

“He left us in no doubt that he thought we should speak out,” said one chief executive attending the long-scheduled reception as others spoke of the event as a rousing “call to arms” to save the Union.

That plea has been backed up with a flurry of phone calls in recent days from Mr Cameron, Labour’s Better Together leader Alistair Darling, Chancellor and Conservative MP George Osborne and Liberal Democrat Danny Alexander, to Britain’s most senior business leaders in an orchestrated effort by Downing Street to halt the momentum of the Yes campaign.

Their efforts have been rewarded with a groundswell in warnings from business over the fallout for Scottish consumers and workers should they vote Yes in next week’s referendum.

Kingfisher chief Sir Ian Cheshire and John Lewis chairman Charlie Mayfield, both of whom attended Monday’s event, this week spoke out over the added costs that could be passed through to Scottish consumers in the event of a Yes vote.

“It does cost more money to trade in parts of Scotland, and therefore those higher costs in the event of a Yes vote are more likely to passed on,” warned Mr Mayfield on Thursday.

Senior bankers also attended the reception, including António Horta-Osório, the Lloyds TSB chief executive who this week announced plans to move the banking group’s headquarters south of the border should Scotland vote for independence.

One senior banker told the Financial Times there had been pressure from the Treasury on the Scotland-based banks to publicly announce plans to move their domicile to London in the event of a Yes vote. “The Treasury wanted something said before the vote,” the banker said.

But the prime minister’s overtures have not been universally embraced. National Grid remained unmoved by Mr Cameron’s plea. “The future of Scotland is very much a decision for the Scottish people,” it said on Thursday.

Additional reporting by Michael Kavanagh

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