Supply chain · 19 February 2016

EU renegotiation: Outcome of talks won’t impact small business vote

Many businesspeople don’t feel the outcome of the prime minister’s renegotiation talks will significantly impact business

Almost two-thirds of the UK’s senior businesspeople have said that the outcome of the prime minister David Cameron’s EU renegotiation talks in Brussels will not likely change how they will vote in the imminent referendum on Britain’s continued membership in the union, a survey from the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) has concluded.

Concurrent to landmark talks in the Belgian capital with European officials in which Cameron is expected to secure a deal for the UK, findings from the latest survey of over 2,000 senior figures in business indicate that renegotiation is having little impact on the opinion of voters. Indeed, the survey suggests that it is the referendum itself that is most important to businesspeople.

Taking the temperature of voters, the survey found that 60 per cent of businesspeople would choose to remain in the EU rather than leave it at this stage, down slightly from 63 per cent of those asked in the BCC’s previous survey in September 2015. In all, 30 per cent would vote to leave, up from 27 per cent last September.

“Our findings are a wake-up call for both those wanting to remain in and leave the EU. Neither side can bank on a change to business opinion in the wake of any renegotiation settlement,” said director general of the BCC John Longworth.

“When we last surveyed members in September, we did not know the detail or ambition of the prime minister’s renegotiation package. Now the findings suggest that renegotiation is having little impact on day-to-day business or the vote of the business community, since many made up their minds before the negotiations, effectively discounting their outcome,” he added.

The BCC survey on voting intentions demonstrated a business community with divided interests, based on company size and export interests. Small and micro businesses that are less likely to export are significantly less likely to vote to remain in the EU.

The data also showed that the overwhelming majority of business leaders don’t expect the referendum to change anything, with over eight in ten anticipating no material impact to orders/sales, recruitment, investment or costs.

“Business remains divided on Europe, and business leaders’ views reflect the size of their firm and their export interests, rather than the current political debate,” Longworth went on to say. “They are making rational economic choices based on their own interests”.

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Fred Heritage was previously deputy editor at Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and international relations from the University of Kent and an MA in international conflict from Kings College London.