LONDON Britain's main business lobby group has cancelled its status as an official campaigner against Scottish independence following an outcry by some members who feared that stance jeopardised their neutrality in an increasingly heated debate.
The Electoral Commission agreed to a request by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) to scrub its registration as a supporter of the anti-independence campaign ahead of a Sept. 18 referendum.
The CBI, the leading group representing large employers in Britain, said that following legal advice, the Electoral Commission declared its registration void as its application was not signed by an authorised signatory.
"The CBI is a politically independent and impartial body and will ensure that it complies with Electoral Commission guidance to safeguard its political independence," the CBI said in a statement on Thursday.
The CBI has consistently opposed Scotland becoming independent and breaking away from the United Kingdom, saying it would cause uncertainty over currency, taxation, financial regulation and European Union membership.
But some of its members were outraged when the CBI registered with the Electoral Commission as required by any organisations or individuals who want to spend more than 10,000 pounds ($16,800) on campaigning during the official referendum period that starts on May 30.
Several organisations, including the BBC, two businesses, universities and public agencies, resigned from or suspended their membership of the CBI because they did not wish to be linked to the anti-independence campaign.
CBI Director General John Cridland said the decision to register was taken in good faith and had "inadvertently given the impression that the CBI is a political entity".
He said the CBI would continue to raise questions but that it no longer believed that official registration as a campaigner was needed for it to carry out its normal functions.
"The CBI has a job to do on behalf of its members and their employees to help create the right conditions for UK companies to grow and prosper, wherever they operate across the world," a CBI statement said.
"We will continue to do that without fear or favour."
The row broke out as opinion polls showed the gap between the two sides narrowing, although nationalists are still behind in support.
The CBI says it speaks on behalf of 190,000 businesses across Britain, and that CBI members in Scotland employ around 500,000 people, about a quarter of the private-sector workforce.
(Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith, Editing by Angus MacSwan)