British small business owners are still undecided on how to vote in the upcoming referendum on the UK’s EU membership, according to a new poll published as financial leaders warned that Brexit could damage the economy and scuttle Deutsche Börse’s takeover of the London Stock Exchange.
Deutsche Börse, whose shareholders would take 54.4% of the new holding company’s capital, has until 22 March to secure the merger. Both parties admitted that the third attempt to combine the two financial giants could be at risk.
The Federation of Small Businesses’ (FSB) first survey since the 23 June referendum date was announced revealed that 42% of more than 4,000 small business owners could still be persuaded to vote to remain or leave.
Just over half (52%) said they do not feel informed about the EU referendum. 48% said they wanted more information on the economic impact on the UK. More than a third (38%) needed more details on the burden of red tape and 33% asked for more details on the cost of EU membership.
Mike Cherry, FSB’s policy director, said that the poll showed “Three out of four FSB members raised EU governance – i.e. how decisions are made within the EU – as the area that would have the highest influence on how they plan to vote.”
Other areas that scored highly included the free movement of people (70%), the cost of EU membership (69%), the administrative burden of regulation (68%) and the economic impact on the UK (64%).
Cherry added that it was important that both campaign groups answer questions about what practical impact staying or going would have on their firms.
A decade of uncertainty
Simon Walker of the Institute of Directors (IoD) warned that the UK could face “up to ten years of relative uncertainty”.
That would be a “profound disincentive” for many businesses and that job losses, higher prices and slower economic growth could result.
Walker added that SMEs were particularly vulnerable, because most of their trade is with European countries. He could not think “of any big FTSE companies who are actually in favour of Britain leaving the EU”.
Uncertainty about the outcome of the referendum led to the pound nearing a seven-year low against the US dollar.
British Prime Minister David Cameron promised to renegotiate the UK's relations with the European Union. The renegotiation will be followed by a referendum by the end of 2017, to decide whether or not the United Kingdom should remain in the EU.
After last week's European Council, where a reform deal was agreed, Cameron will campaign to stay in with the referendum date set for 23 June.
EU leaders had their red lines, and ruled out changing fundamental EU principles, such as the free movement of workers, and a ban on discriminating between workers from different EU states.
The decision on whether to stay or go could have far-reaching consequences for trade, investment and Great Britain's position on the international scene.
- 23 June: Referendum.
- July-December 2017: United Kingdom holds rotating EU Council Presidency.