The founder of Cobra beer, Karan Bilimoria, is being lined up to be the next president of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) at a crucial time for the business lobby group as Britain prepares to leave the EU.

Lord Bilimoria, a vocal remain supporter and a campaigner for a second referendum, became the frontrunner to succeed the Tesco chairman, John Allan, as president after the group said he would stand for election as its vice-president at its annual meeting on 18 June.

The CBI confirmed that tradition would suggest Bilimoria’s appointment as vice-president makes him the most likely candidate to take over when Allen’s two-year term ends next summer.

Bilimoria, an independent cross-bench peer, turned Cobra beer into a household name after founding it in 1989 and remains its chairman. He was also the founding chairman of the UK-India Business Council.

“I’m very much looking forward to the role,” he said. “These are very challenging times for the country, the economy, and for British business, and the CBI has a crucial role to play. I’m looking forward to contributing.”

Bilimoria has previously compared the Brexit process to “watching a train crash in slow motion” and campaigned for a second referendum with the Business for a People’s Vote group.

He said on Sunday his personal view on Brexit was “completely separate” and that he would be aligned with the CBI as an organisation.

He added: “I want a resolution to this in a way that would be good for the UK and for British business.”

A CBI spokesman said: “Lord Bilimoria’s views on whether there should be a second referendum are well known, yet the CBI’s position is unchanged. Passing a withdrawal agreement is the only way to avoid a damaging no-deal scenario and secure a transition period, creating much-needed breathing space for firms of all sizes.

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“Failure to break the deadlock – by all politicians compromising to find a deal that commands a majority in parliament, [that] is acceptable to the EU and protects our economy – means the clamour for a general election or a second referendum will grow.”

If elected next month as vice-president, Bilimoria will replace the CBI’s current vice-president, Paul Drechsler, when he steps down at the end of his one-year term. Drechsler was CBI president before Allan, and if tradition is followed, Allan will become vice-president once Bilimoria is confirmed as president next year.

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Carolyn Fairbairn, the CBI director-general, thanked Drechsler for his contribution and said Bilimoria’s wealth of business experience would prove invaluable for the organisation’s 190,000 members at a critical time for the country.

“Lord Bilamoria has had a remarkable career in British business, during which he has built a deep understanding what it takes to build a successful company,” Fairbairn said.

The CBI president is a non-executive role that chairs the group’s board and helps to shape the organisation’s policy decisions.



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