John Longworth
British Chambers of Commerce boss John Longworth has resigned from the organisation for his views on BrexitReuters

The head of the BCC has resigned after being suspended for saying the UK's long-term prospects could be "brighter" outside the EU. Longworth revealed his support for Brexit at the annual BCC conference on Thursday 3 March.

At the conference, Longworth said the EU referendum was a choice between the "devil and the deep blue sea". He added that voters faced "undoubtedly a tough choice". One option was staying in an "essentially unreformed EU", with the other being the uncertainty of leaving. He later said his comments had been made in a personal capacity, according to a BBC report.

Longworth's comments and his suspension caused an outcry, with London mayor Boris Johnson and former defence secretary Liam Fox, both prominent campaigners for the UK to leave the EU, defending him. Johnson called Mr Longworth's treatment "scandalous", while Mr Fox said ministers should clarify "if they were involved in any way in putting pressure on" the BCC to suspend Mr Longworth.

In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, Longworth accused the government of trying to scare voters into staying in Europe.

"It is highly irresponsible of the government of the country to be peddling hyperbole. It is alright for the campaign groups to do it because they are promoting a particular position.

"But the government has to be responsible. And the fact of the matter is that there is a chance that the country will vote to leave," he told the paper.

EU referendum: This is what you really need to know about the Brexit voteIBTimes UK

Downing Street denied any pressure was put on the BCC to suspend its director general. A spokesperson for No. 10 said that while it had been "surprised" by the views expressed by Longworth "no pressure" was put on the BCC to suspend the business leader.

"Given that 60% of BCC members say they want to stay in the EU, No10 was surprised to see the director general of the organisation come out for Brexit. We are clear no pressure was put on the BCC to suspend him. Of course No. 10 talks to business organisations regularly - but, to be clear: no pressure was applied.

"This decision is entirely a matter for the BCC."

Full statement from Nora Senior, President of the British Chambers of Commerce

"The British Chambers of Commerce is a non-partisan organisation, and as such, decided not to campaign for either side ahead of the European referendum on 23rd June 2016. Its neutrality in the referendum debate reflects the real divisions that exist in business communities across the UK.

"John Longworth and the BCC Board recognise that John's personal view on the referendum is likely to create confusion regarding the BCC's neutral stance going forward. In light of this, John has taken the decision to step down as Director-General and his resignation has been accepted by the Board with effect from 6 March 2016.

"No politician or interest group had any influence on the BCC Board decision to suspend Mr Longworth. His subsequent resignation was agreed mutually between Mr Longworth and the BCC Board, and there were no external factors involved. The only views taken into account were those of the BCC Board and the BCC's owners, the UK accredited Chamber Network.

"All representatives of the BCC have the right to personal and political views on the key issues of the day. However, they are not expected to articulate these views while acting in their professional capacity, as their views could be misconstrued as representing the position of the organisation as a whole.

"The BCC will continue to use its position to reflect the varied views of the business communities it serves, articulate their concerns, and seek greater clarity and information from both sides.

"The Board would like to thank John for his significant contribution to the development of the BCC, and wish him well for the future.

"Adam Marshall will be carrying out the Director-General role on an interim basis until a permanent replacement is appointed. Please direct enquiries to Allan Williams in the first instance"