A majority of business leaders will be voting in favour of Britain staying inside the European Union after David Cameron’s deal, according to two new surveys.
But there are warnings that, whichever way the vote goes, Britain’s commercial interests are already being hurt by the uncertainty.
Six in 10 executives said they supported the plan hammered out in Brussels, according to a snap poll organised by the Institute of Directors, while a similar finding was reported by the EEF manufacturers’ organisation.
Despite the majority opting to stick with the EU, 31% of the IoD members questioned said they wanted Britain to leave the union, with only 9% saying they had yet to make up their mind. EEF, meanwhile, found that only 5% of its members supported an exit, although a quarter were undecided.
The surveys were published as it emerged that dozens of the most senior business leaders were planning to sign and issue a campaign letter warning that leaving the EU would deter investment in the UK and threaten jobs, according to Sky News.
Simon Walker, director general of the IoD, said most of his members had already made their mind up before Cameron’s deal. But he was concerned that four in 10 firms had not discussed the issue in the boardroom.
“The prime minister has fought hard for this deal and has secured positive changes, in particular on reducing the burden of pointless or excessive red tape. Businesses will weigh up the reforms when considering the pros and cons of EU membership as they decide how to vote at the referendum,” Walker added.
“The issue is, of course, much larger than this agreement. Our members have concerns about the way the EU operates in some areas. But this is balanced against the ability to trade easily across the single market. Their operations are deeply entwined with the European Union – more than three-quarters have commercial links with other member states.”
The chief executive of EEF, Terry Scuoler, said his organisation’s poll conducted in advance of the prime minister’s deal found almost 80% of members believed that government concessions would not influence their views.
“These findings show that the majority of our members – of all sizes – are pragmatically pro-EU. There are no rose-tinted spectacles here – our members are fully aware of the pros and cons of EU membership and, on balance, have decided that the UK’s interests are best served by remaining,” Scuoler said.
“Our findings reinforce the fact that companies, particularly those interested in exporting, do not see the point of the UK cutting itself off from its major market. More importantly, they reject the idea that the UK faces a straight choice between exporting to the EU or expanding its global reach.”
The UK’s other major employers’ organisation, the CBI, has repeatedly come out in favour of Britain remaining part of the EU, but is once again consulting its members to see how they feel.
Carolyn Fairbairn, director general of the CBI, said: “UK businesses want to see changes to the EU that will put Europe on the path to a more competitive and prosperous future. The prime minister’s reform package looks to be a major step forward on that journey.
“These reforms protect the UK’s place and influence inside this important market, and a renewed focus on EU competitiveness will help British firms succeed in creating jobs and economic growth at home in the years ahead. Firms will particularly welcome a commitment to reduce unnecessary regulation.”
Well-known names such as BT, Airbus, Citigroup, Ford and Adnams have recently put their names to a report published by the CBI entitled “Choosing our Future: why the European Union is good for business”.
Sky News reported that the chairs or chief executives of between one-third and half of the companies in the FTSE 100 were likely to put their names to the pro-EU letter. Among the signatories are expected to be: Vittorio Colao, Vodafone chief executive; Sir Roger Carr, BAE Systems chairman; and easyJet boss Carolyn McCall.
Meanwhile, Jeremy Cook, chief economist at the World First currency exchange, said damage was already being done to business by the debate around whether Britain would leave the EU.
“We think that the uncertainty around the outcome of the EU referendum has already taken around 5% off the value of sterling in recent months and we expect this to worsen as opinion polls pockmark the lead-in to the vote,” Cook said. “Of course, should the UK populace vote to leave the EU then these losses will seem minor, as the pound will likely plunge further.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010