EU Barometer: Firms ‘want in’, but not ‘further in’

As heads of government gather in Brussels to discuss economic growth proposals, the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) has published its latest EU Business Barometer, tracking attitudes to Britain’s place in the European Union.

The latest survey of 3,500 businesses shows that firms continue to see a recast UK-EU relationship, with Britain remaining on the inside, as most favourable.

More than half of businesses (57%) feel that staying in the EU, with more powers brought back to Westminster, would be positive.

The most notable shift since the Q2 survey is that negative views have diminished on remaining in the EU with no relationship change (down 7% on the quarter to 38% of firms saying this outcome would be negative), and on remaining in the EU with further integration (39% of firms see this as a negative outcome, down 7% on the quarter).

Results of the Q3 EU Business Barometer show: 

  • Remaining in the EU is preferred, but with specific powers transferred back to Westminster. 57% view this as positive, 18% say it would have no impact, 9% view it negatively, and 16% don’t know.
  • Full withdrawal is the most negative scenario – so said 59%. 12% say it would have no impact, 13% say it would be positive, and 16% don’t know. However 28% view withdrawal combined with a formal UK-EU free trade agreement as a positive scenario.
  • Further integration with the EU is still seen negatively, but less so than previously. 39%  view this negatively (- 7% on the last quarter), 16% say no impact, 23% view it positively (+3% on last quarter) and 22% don’t know. 
  • Business respondents view ‘no change’ negatively but, again, less so than previously. 38% see this as negative (- 7% on last quarter), 38% no impact, 15% don’t know and 9% positive. Notably, fewer than one in ten firms see ‘no change’ as a positive outcome to the EU debate.

 Commenting, John Longworth, BCC Director General, said:

“British firms are pragmatic when it comes to Europe. A majority want to remain in the EU, but with a reformed relationship that sees a substantial shift of power  back to member-states. In a nutshell, companies support the Prime Minister’s ‘reform and renegotiation’ agenda, but are unsure of whether and how it can actually be delivered.

“While Britain’s domestic debate on EU membership continues, it is crucial for European leaders to take decisive action to support growth in the UK and all 28 member-states. The European Council must fast-track reforms that deliver a real single market in services and e-commerce — which would benefit Britain’s world-beating professional services and digital companies by enabling them to trade more easily across borders. Businesses want fewer barriers to trade and investment across Europe, but they also want clear safeguards for member-states like the UK that are not interested in further integration.

“While UK business remains level-headed on Europe, it is unfortunate that the Europhobes and Europhiles continue to dominate the debate. Their extreme positions – “exit now” or “in at all costs” – are a turn-off to businesspeople who want to see a pragmatic outcome that is squarely in the interests of UK growth and prosperity.”

Written on 17th December 2014Lillie Geistdorfer. Published in BCC, Current Issues, Economy, Exporting, Lobbying, News, Survey