LONDON The director general of the British Chambers of Commerce has been suspended after he called for Britain to leave the European Union, against the wishes of most of the organisation's members, the Financial Times reported on Saturday.
The newspaper said John Longworth had told reporters on Thursday that Britain would be better off leaving the 28-member bloc, comments directly at odds with the majority of BCC members who want to stay in, according to its own research.
The FT said that after an emergency board meeting on Friday Longworth was suspended for breaching the BCC's official position of neutrality on the issue.
A spokesman for the BCC, which represents thousands of British businesses, declined to comment.
Britain will hold a referendum on whether to stay in the EU on June 23. Opinion polls show voters split almost 50-50 on whether to stay in the bloc or leave.
The ruling Conservative Party is deeply divided on the EU issue, with Prime Minister David Cameron and London Mayor Boris Johnson the respective figureheads of the 'in' and 'out' camps.
Companies such as BP and GlaxoSmithKline have cautioned that Britain's $2.9 trillion economy would face years of uncertain negotiations if voters chose to divorce, while Goldman Sachs said sterling could fall by as much as a fifth.
But members of Britain's 'out' campaign say such warnings are overblown and that Britain would prosper if it broke free.
In his speech at the BCC's annual conference on Thursday, Longworth said the organisation was not going to campaign on either side of the EU debate but gave his "personal observations".
"In the long run we have the capacity and capability to create a bright, if not brighter, economic future outside of the EU just as we would have done had we had the opportunity to stay in a truly reformed Europe," he said.
(Reporting by James Davey, additional reporting by Kylie MacLellan; Editing by Mark Trevelyan and Adrian Croft)