Churchill's Scion Says Brexit Falls `Between Terrible and Lousy'

  • Serco Chief Rupert Soames warns of impact on business growth
  • Wartime leader's grandson was signatory of anti-Brexit letter

Winston Churchill’s grandson has some choice words on Britain’s possible departure from the European Union.

The prospect of a split “is an idea hovering somewhere between terrible and lousy,” Rupert Soames, chief executive officer of U.K. services company Serco Plcand son of Churchill’s youngest child, Mary, said in an interview Thursday.

Soames was among top executives who this week signed a letter backing Prime Minister David Cameron’s efforts to keep the EU whole after an in-out referendum was set for June 23. The pound sank to its weakest against the dollar since 2009 on Monday amid fears that the U.K. will vote to leave.

Serco gets about 140 million pounds ($177 million) of revenue from continental Europe, or 5 percent of the total, and has earmarked the region for growth. “I just don’t see that we will be able to grow that business at the speed that we want to were we not in the EU,” Soames said.

Rival Theories

While Churchill coined the term “special relationship” in 1946 to describe the enduring alliance between Britain and the U.S., the same year he also called for a “United States of Europe” led by a partnership of Germany and France to revive the continent after World War II.

Following the founding of the European Community in 1958, Britain sought to sign up three years later but was opposed by France, joining only in 1973.

Soames’s brother Nicholas, a Conservative lawmaker, said this week that London Mayor Boris Johnson, a biographer of Churchill, was wrong to invoke Britain’s wartime prime minister in an article explaining his decision to back the Brexit campaign.

Churchill’s view was that the U.K. should be “associated, but not absorbed” with Europe, Johnson wrote. Nicholas Soames said the interpretation was “completely below the line.”

O’Leary Wades In

Ryanair Holdings Plc today became one of the first companies to spend moneybacking the “In” campaign, running advertisements across U.K. newspapers calling on Britons not to hurt the economy by quitting the bloc. The push could spread to the cabins of Ryanair’s jets, CEO Michael O’Leary said Wednesday.

The heads of companies including Royal Dutch Shell Plc, GlaxoSmithKline Plc, BT Group Plc and BAE Systems Plc have also warned of the risk of leaving.

Soames has led a recovery at Serco after taking over in 2014, when it was bedeviled by unprofitable contracts and fraud allegations. The stock surged 19 percent Thursday as he reported better-than-expected full-year earnings and predicted a full recovery by the end of the decade.

“Our plan has survived first contact with the enemy, and we go into 2016 in much better shape than we entered 2015,” Soames said in an earnings statement. “However, to paraphrase the Duke of Wellington at Waterloo, we know that much hard pounding lies ahead.”

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