Small businesses are deeply divided over whether to remain in the European Union and how big an impact a “Brexit” would have on their future growth.
According to a study by The Federation of Small Businesses into small company opinion on the forthcoming referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU, it found that if the vote was held today 47 per cent of its members would vote yes to keep Britain in the EU with 40.9 per cent voting no.
Another 10.7 per cent of members said they were still undecided.
The FSB found that exporters to the EU, 66.3 per cent, were most likely to vote yes as were employers of non-UK EU nationals at 60.7 per cent. Scottish members were keen to remain with 59.9 per cent in the yes camp as were importers from the EU at 56 per cent and members in London, Northern Ireland and the North East of England.
Female business owners were split with 51.3 per cent stating they would vote yes. Of male business owners 45.8 per cent would vote yes and 43.3 per cent would vote no.
Despite being in the yes camp only a quarter said they would like the EU to remain part in its current form, with 34.7 per cent wanting to see powers transferred back to the UK. Just over a tenth wanted to see further EU integration.
Of those tempted by a no vote 86.3 per cent said they had also voted no in the 1975 referendum. Members in the East Midlands, Yorkshire and the Humber and the West Midlands were most likely to vote no.
The main drivers behind a possible no vote were 42.7 per cent who said they would like the UK to concentrate on strengthening global trade links and 29.1 per cent who wanted to negotiate individual trade and other agreements with the EU and individual member states.
Regarding the potential impact on their businesses, 41.3 per cent felt that leaving the EU would be negative with 33.6 per cent believing there would be no hit. Almost a fifth felt that leaving the EU would have a positive impact.
On remaining in the EU 37.7 per cent felt it would have no impact with 35.4 per cent believing it would have a positive impact.
However clouding the responses was the finding that only 40.8 per cent of business leaders felt informed about the referendum from a business point of view with 37 per cent saying they didn’t feel informed.
“This research is a vital starting point in outlining the key issues and areas of concern for small businesses in the EU referendum debate,” said Mike Cherry, FSB policy director. “Regardless of what a firm’s current position is, there is a shared message that small businesses feel they lack clear, impartial information on which to form their views. Our role will be to ensure the small business voice is heard in the discussion, and that our members have all the information they need to make a decision which is right for them and their business.”
Robert Oxley, campaign director of Business for Britain, said the survey showed that business opinion was divided.
“Significantly a majority of businesses are unhappy with the EU status quo and want to see the UK take control back. Being part of an unreformed EU means that we lose control over key parts of our economy, costing businesses and ultimately jobs,” he commented.
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