On BBC’s Andrew Marr Show this morning, Virgin Group boss Sir Richard Branson said it would be “inconceivable” for Britain to leave the EU and go back to paying export and import taxes on our trade with Europe.
Here’s a full transcript of the interview that I prepared from the broadcast:
ANDREW MARR: Now then, the referendum on whether Britain should stay in the EU may be some way off but it already feels as if campaigns for and against are gathering pace. Last week a number of business leaders wrote to The Times to argue that Britain is stronger in Europe, among them was Sir Richard Branson, founder of course of the Virgin Group. He told me why he thinks it would be madness to leave the EU.
SIR RICHARD BRANSON: If I may I’ll go back to 50 years when started in business, I had a record company. If I wanted to export my music into Europe, I paid 35% tax, if I wanted to import music from Europe I paid 35% tax. If I wanted to set-up an office in Europe, it was extremely difficult. If I wanted to put people from UK into Europe to work in my office, it was extremely difficult. There wasn’t this wonderful situation we have at the moment where there’s this enormous trading block, you can treat it just as if it’s the UK, trade anywhere within Europe, so how anybody would want to go back to the days when all these barriers were put up, I just find it inconceivable.
MARR: I suppose one of the issues is, however, our trade deficit with Europe is £48 billion at the moment, plus the £12 billion entrance fee. That’s £60 billion it’s costing us to be in Europe, and for a lot of people, that is a price just too high.
BRANSON: I think people need to remember that the whole of the EU administration put together has no more people than the number of people that run a city like Birmingham. A lot of these other costs is money that comes back into the countries of Europe and it’s used to benefit those countries. We’ve now got a trading block that’s the equivalent to the size of America and we’re on an equal footing when we’re negotiating trade deals or airline deals, we’re talking from a positon of strength. If we go back to being Great Britain again, we will have our hands tied behind our back, and I think Europeans will rightly punish us again, and we’ll be back to where we were 50 years ago.
MARR: In your businesses you must employ a lot of people from other parts of the EU, as employees, what do you think therefore about the proposal that they should have some of their tax rights and tax credits and so forth removed to prevent higher immigration into the UK from the rest of the EU.
BRANSON: Look if they need to tinker with one or two of these things in order to make sure we don’t end up doing something more catastrophic like leaving Europe that’s fine by me. I think there are much bigger issues that I’m concerned about. When I was a young man, at the dinner table my father would talk about the five years he spent fighting the Italians and fighting the Germans and I remember my grandfather talking about being gassed in the trenches. We’re the first generation that hasn’t been to war in Europe, and this to me is even more important, about being part of a big trading block, we spend time with each other, we marry each other, we live in each other’s countries, we’re not going to go to war with each other.
MARR: And yet there is clearly something fundamental going wrong inside the EU at the moment, I am thinking of Greece and possible Grexit and the pressure the Euro has put on all those southern economies to either cut back brutally or leave the entire thing. I mean you were a great enthusiast the Euro once, are you now pleased that we’re now staying out of it
BRANSON: Not particularly, I think that if we were part of the Euro right now, our currency would be a lot cheaper, Great Britain would be doing that much better in trading in Europe, because the pound is a lot stronger than the Euro it makes it more difficult for us. Greece has got problems because it overspent, it hasn’t run into difficulties because it’s part of Europe.
MARR: For most of my adult lifetime you have been the face of the Virgin Group of companies, you’ve done a great job of selling your companies, do you think you can do the same kind of thing to sell Europe to people?
BRANSON: I doubt I’ll be taking a lead role, I mean all I can do is do the occasional interview to say why I’m…
MARR: You won’t be on a soapbox..
BRANSON: No, I’m not going to be on a soapbox, I’ve avoided politics and I’m not going to start now, but I’m very happy just to say why we should be proud of being Europeans. Each European country is trying to improve Europe, that’s much better to do from within Europe than from without.
MARR: Sir Richard Branson thank you very much for joining us.
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