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Business leaders still divided over staying in or quitting the EU

4 min read

25 September 2015

Senior business personnel want to hear what concessions the prime minister wins from Brussels before they decide how to vote in a European referendum.

Half of senior business leaders are waiting to hear what David Cameron can achieve when it comes to negotiating with the European Commission before deciding whether to stay in the EU.

According to a new Europe survey by the British Chambers of Commerce, many business people have yet to take a firm position on the question of the UK’s future relationship with the EU, and are seeking greater clarity from Downing Street.

The BCC study revealed that if an in-out referendum were to be held tomorrow, 63 per cent would vote to remain in the EU, 27 per cent would vote to leave and ten per cent are unsure.

However, fully 50 per cent said their vote could change depending on David Cameron’s renegotiation package with the EU.

John Longworth, director general of the BCC said: “Business people want more clarity on the prime minister’s renegotiation plans before they have their say on Britain’s future in the EU. With half keeping their options open before making up their mind on how to vote, business’s top concerns need to be at the top of Downing Street’s negotiation agenda. 

“They are demanding a real shift in the balance of power between the UK and Brussels in any deal. Clear safeguards for the UK, and greater decision-making here at home, are at the top of their priority list.”

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The survey found that respondents are following the EU debate closely, with 51 per cent reading about it at least weekly, and a further 26 per cent at least every fortnight.

Most leaders said they are familiar with the implications of an in-out referendum, with 72 per cent saying they understand the implications for their business and 69 per cent saying they understand the implications for the UK.

Over eight in ten business leaders reported no “material impacts” of the planned referendum on their businesses to date.

If the UK were to leave the EU, 40 per cent currently expect this would have a negative impact on their overall growth strategy; 40 per cent expect it would have no impact and 14 per cent expect it would have a positive impact.

Regarding the renegotiation package only 31 per cent of business people claimed to be familiar with it, with those who are not at all familiar representing 30 per cent.

They want Cameron to focus his aspirations for renegotiation on greater powers for the UK parliament to block proposed EU legislation, allowing the UK to opt out from the “ever closer union” and secure greater UK control over migration.

The most beneficial pan-EU reforms would be a reduction in regulation and red tape and a change in the balance of power between Brussels and individual member countries. Some 11 per cent do not believe any EU reforms would have a beneficial impact on their business.

Longworth added: “Many assume that the EU referendum is a simple in-out debate where both camps are firmly entrenched in their positions, but this survey shows that businesspeople want more information and greater clarity, and for now at least their vote is still up for grabs.”