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Cobra founder Bilimoria lined up as CBI president | Business News

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Lord Bilimoria, the cross-bench peer who founded Cobra beer and backs a second EU referendum, is being lined up as the next president of the CBI.

Sky News has learnt that Lord Bilimoria is expected to be appointed this week as the latest vice-president of Britain’s biggest employers’ group.

That would place him in line to take over from John Allan, the Tesco chairman, when his two-year term as president ends in the summer of next year.

If confirmed, Lord Bilimoria’s appointment will mark him out as a comparatively rare figurehead for the country’s most prominent business lobbying group.

He is an entrepreneur who remains at the helm of the business he created, while most CBI presidents have tended to be picked from the ranks of grandees who chair FTSE-100 companies.

Lord Bilimoria would also become the first British Asian to head the CBI at a time when it, and other business groups, are under pressure from Westminster to improve ethnic and gender diversity in the top echelons of the private sector.

Karan Bilimoria, Baron Bilimoria
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Lord Bilimoria is a contributor to Sky News’ discussion programme The Pledge

He launched Cobra from a flat in south-west London in 1989, growing it to the point where it became an omnipresent fixture in the UK’s licensed Indian restaurants.

A contributor to Sky News’ discussion programme The Pledge, Lord Bilimoria is also chancellor of The University of Birmingham and holds several other advisory roles.

His vocal backing for a second referendum is, however, likely to be a flashpoint among those CBI members keen for the UK to leave the EU at the earliest opportunity.

Lord Bilimoria is a member of Business For A People’s Vote and has been a signatory to a number of letters published by the group calling on the government to change course.

Theresa May’s resignation on Friday may ultimately complicate the CBI’s position on Brexit because her successor as Conservative leader and prime minister is expected to be drawn from the party’s Brexiteer ranks.

The CBI has 190,000 members and has become increasingly strident in calling for a resolution of the Brexit impasse amid parliament’s inability to reach a consensus.

Last week, prior to Mrs May’s emotional resignation statement, Mr Allan called on politicians to “do whatever it takes and do it fast” to resolve the gridlock in Westminster.

“It’s not for business leaders to tell politicians when to trigger democratic events,” he told the CBI annual dinner.

“But be in no doubt political failure today means economic failure tomorrow.

“We need to find a way through.”

Lord Bilimoria (front, left) and Martin Horwood MP (back, right) take part in the annual Rehab Parliamentary Pancake Race in 2014
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Lord Bilimoria pictured in the annual Rehab Parliamentary Pancake Race in 2014

CBI presidents serve a two-year term in the role, although they also tend to spend a year either side of their tenure as vice-president.

The holder of the role oversees the CBI’s president’s committee, a group of dozens of leading businesspeople who play an important role shaping its policy priorities.

The exception to the two-year term was during the presidency of Paul Drechsler, who now chairs London First.

He held the CBI post for three years as the lobbying group sought to provide continuity during the protracted Brexit negotiations.

If he is confirmed in the role, Lord Bilimoria will also face shaping the CBI’s ongoing response to a Labour front-bench which is determined to nationalise key industries, such as water, energy infrastructure and rail.

The CBI openly opposes the policy, and recently held talks with John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, about the party’s nationalisation drive.

Lord Bilimoria could not be reached for comment on Sunday.

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