BBC withdraws from UK business group over Scottish independence

LONDON, April 24 Thu Apr 24, 2014 4:46pm EDT

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LONDON, April 24 (Reuters) - The BBC is to suspend its membership of Britain's leading business lobby group after deciding on Thursday to join a number of organisations protesting over the CBI's move to officially campaign against Scottish independence.

The BBC and the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) both issued statements saying the publicly-funded broadcaster would suspend its membership from the start of the official campaign period on May 30 until the independence referendum on Sept. 18.

The broadcaster is one of a list of companies, public agencies and universities to sever ties with the CBI after it registered with the Electoral Commission to support the campaign to stop Scotland from leaving the United Kingdom.

Organisations or individuals have to register if they want to spend more than 10,000 pounds ($16,800) and up to 150,000 pounds on campaigning during the official referendum period.

The fallout highlights the growing divisions in Scotland over the referendum as opinion polls show the race tightening, although the pro-independence campaign remains behind.

"In order to protect the BBC's neutrality, the CBI and the BBC have agreed to suspend the BBC's membership during the business group's registration period under the terms of the Scottish Referendums Act 2013," the statement said.

The registration by the CBI, the leading group in Britain to represent large employers, was condemned by some members, who said the group had not sought their signoff over a decision that jeopardises their neutrality in the increasingly bitter debate.

Businesses operating in Scotland have tried to distance themselves from the debate over whether Scotland should end its 307-year tie to England, saying they have no vote in the process so should not take sides.

Some publicly-listed companies, however, have issued guidance on the potential risks they see from independence as they are legally required to flag any possible future hurdles.

The CBI has consistently argued against independence, saying it would cause uncertainty over currency, taxation, financial regulation and European Union membership and could harm businesses in Scotland which has a large financial sector.

CBI Director General John Cridland said he was confident the "vast majority" of the group's membership agreed with its stance opposing independence.

But most of Scotland's universities, several public agencies, broadcaster STV, the Law Society of Scotland, and two businesses, Aquamarine Power and Balhousie Care Group, have left the organisation after it registered to join the campaign.

The pro-independence campaign group Business for Scotland group said it was clearly "not sustainable" for any neutral public or private sector member with a Scottish interest to remain in the CBI.

"The CBI is nothing more than a wing of the No Campaign and membership fees have been spent on No vote campaigning against the interests of Scottish democracy," Chairman Tony Bank said in a statement. (Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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