Business chief who can’t wait to quit the EU: New Institute of Directors boss says Brexit offers ‘massive opportunities’ to boost trade with the rest of the world

  • Stephen Martin says quitting EU offers Britain opportunities to boost trade
  • He said leaving the Brussels club ‘could open our eyes to the rest of the world’
  • Urged ministers to use UK’s new freedom to scrap red tape stifling businesses

Quitting the European Union offers Britain ‘massive opportunities’ to boost trade with the rest of the world, according to the new boss of the Institute of Directors.

Stephen Martin, who took over as director general of the influential 114-year-old business lobby group earlier this month, has revealed he voted for Brexit in the referendum last June.

He said leaving the Brussels club ‘could open our eyes to the rest of the world’ and urged ministers to use the UK’s new-found freedom to scrap the red tape stifling businesses.

‘British businesses want to make Brexit work, and are keen to explore trade opportunities with the rest of the world that arise once we leave the EU,’ he said.

Before taking over at the London-based IoD, Mr Martin ran construction group Clugston in Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire. 

He is seeking to broaden the IoD’s appeal outside the capital and among small businesses, and said he had not been surprised by the Leave vote. ‘I called it for Brexit. I expected the result,’ he said. 

‘I genuinely believe this is because I was based in the North of England and am not London-focused. I could see the different views of the different places, different workforces.

‘Remainers thought it was obvious [to stay], but it wasn’t.’

The appointment of a Brexit supporter to lead the IoD has raised eyebrows given the widespread view the business community wanted to remain in the EU.

The pro-Brussels Confederation of British Industry called for Britain to join the euro and warned leaving the EU would be a disaster for the economy.

Although the British Chambers of Commerce officially took a neutral stance in the referendum campaign, former director general John Longworth left abruptly early last year after personally backing Brexit publicly.

Mr Longworth, who is now co-chairman of Brexit campaign group Leave Means Leave, said the decision to appoint a ‘leaver’ as head of the IoD was ‘very sensible’. 

He added: ‘If the IoD is embracing Brexit, and looking to find the best way of making Britain a great place to do business, then that is to be applauded. I would hope that other business organisations follow suit.’

Mr Martin, 51, a married father of two, grew up in a working-class Belfast home when the sectarian violence of The Troubles was at its peak. He took a degree in quantity surveying at Ulster University and has an MBA from London Business School.

The former Territorial Army recruit is also a bona fide magician. ‘People are often surprised when they find out I’m a member of The Magic Circle,’ he said. 

‘I joined the Ulster society of magicians in the 80s and met all the top magicians of the day, including Paul Daniels. I used to do weekend shows and children’s parties to earn a bit of extra cash.’

Striking an upbeat tone about Britain’s future outside the EU, Mr Martin said: ‘Rather than closing doors, Brexit could open our eyes to the rest of the world. We may have previously ignored trading partners because we haven’t needed to go there.

‘There are massive opportunities around the world, particularly if the Prime Minister follows through on her promise to be a champion of free trade.’

February 28th, 2017: Daily Mail