The billionaire business leader Sir Richard Branson revealed today that he pulled out of a deal that would have created 3,000 jobs because of the Brexit vote.
The Virgin Group founder, who left school at 16 before growing a business empire spanning the music industry, travel and telecoms, said that he canned the large business deal because the UK was heading towards a “cliff".
The entrepreneur was speaking to BuzzFeed News on Tuesday before hosting a pitch for start-up businesses to win up to £1 million of investment from his company. Earlier, he had claimed that the vote to leave the European Union had caused his business to lose a third of its value.
A prominent Remain campaigner, Branson said he feared the vote for Brexit was “nothing short of disaster” for the UK economy and urged politicians to act swiftly to stop the UK “going off the cliff.”
“We were about to do something that would have created 3,000 jobs and we cancelled it. Everyone is cancelling everything,” he said, “So we’ve got to get them to change tact quickly.”
Branson said in a blog post yesterday that politicians should consider calling another referendum.
In the wake of the referendum vote, businesses have been cautious about the future, with the value of the pound having dipped to its lowest point in 30 years, falling against every major currency, prompting fears of a recession.
Economists, however, disagree on the long-term outlook of the economy with some anticipating a recession and others a return to stability. The government, too, has sought to allay fears.
“I’m a born optimist but [the vote] has torpedoed business generally, and bank shares have collapsed,” Branson said.
“Therefore for any business to get loans from the banks in the next few months or years is going to be very, very tough unless politicians are brave and say to the electorate ‘look, we think you’ve been mislead’ and we should have another referendum.”
“At the moment Great Britain is spiralling downwards, we’ve lost 500 million people to trade to and it’s nothing short of a disaster. I think we could be facing one of the worst recessions Britain has ever had,” he added.
Branson said he was pushing for a second referendum with “all the facts on the table".
“If, once we’ve got the terms negotiated from Europe we could have another referendum, with all the facts on the table, then I think we could just save ourselves from going off the cliff,” he urged.
“The difficulty people had who voted out was they were reading the Mail and The Sun who were only putting forward ‘facts’ by Farage and Johnson,” he accused, “and they got a very distorted view of the consequences.”
It would therefore be “democratic” for the electorate to vote again with all the facts on the table, he said. Prime minister David Cameron has already ruled out such a move, despite a petition calling for another vote receiving millions of signatures.
Branson hit out at the widely-publicised and now debunked claim made by the Vote Leave campaign that an extra £350 million would be made available to the NHS as “just a made up thing.” He also slammed claims that Brexit could better-control immigration as “just not possible” in the way Leave campaigners are claiming.
“I think the public hadn’t fully realised what they had and now we’re going to head back towards recession levels again based on a ghastly mistake.
“Nigel Farage made it clear before the vote that if the vote was close he’d demand another referendum, when he thought he was going to lose it."
Now Farage should, Branson added, be granted “his wish".
Branson also said 16 year olds should have been given the right to vote in the referendum, and that they could have swung the result.
“When I was 16 I was marching on the American embassy against the Vietnamese war and I was running a magazine - I was as much an adult as ‘adults’ are,” he said.
“In Scotland 16 year olds had the vote and in Britain they should have the vote. And if [they] had the vote, I think it would have been a different outcome.”
In the blog post he added the referendum had highlighted a schism between young and old, with the 73% of 18 to 24-year-olds in favour of Remain being “toppled by older generations” who made up a larger chunk of the voting population.
His comments, however, promoted a mini-debate on Twitter, with some supporting his his views, while others accused teenagers of being “clueless” and suggesting the voting age should actually be raised.
Others hit out and said the vote had been cast and he should “live with it”.