Almost half (47%) of British small business owners would vote to stay in the European Union if the upcoming referendum on the UK’s membership of the bloc was held today (17 September), according to a new survey.
40.9% of those surveyed said they would vote “No”, with 10.7% undecided in a poll of 6,263 of the Federation of Small Businesses’ (FSB) 200,000 members.
Of those owners who would vote “Yes”, over a third (34.7%) wanted to see the transfer of EU powers back to Britain.
That could be read as support for Prime Minister David Cameron’s push for EU reform, which he has made a condition of his support for Yes. 21.4% said they would like to see other reforms, with 12.9% calling for further integration with the EU.
Business for Britain argues that the UK must vote No, if the EU does not reform. Campaign director Robert Oxley said, “This survey shows clearly that business opinion is divided over whether the UK should stay in the EU.
“Significantly, a majority of businesses are unhappy with the EU status quo and want to see the UK take control back from the EU. This seems increasingly unlikely under the current renegotiation process.”
Exporters and importers say Yes
Two thirds of Yes voters (66.7%) were exporters to the EU and 56% of importers from the bloc also backed staying in.
Almost half (42.7%) of the No vote would like the UK to concentrate on strengthening its trade links with the rest of the world. 29.1% of No want the UK to withdraw and negotiate individual trade agreements with EU member states.
Eurosceptic groups have championed those options when pushing for the Brits to quit the EU. 22.1% of No voters want to leave the EU, but stay in the European Economic Area.
Of male business owners, 45.8% would vote Yes and 43.3% would vote No. Female business owners are more likely to be undecided with 14.5% yet to decide.
40.8% of FSB members surveyed feel ‘informed’ about the forthcoming referendum from a business point of view but 37% don’t.
Mike Cherry, FSB Policy Director, said, “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.”
Almost 60% of Scottish FSB members would vote Yes. Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has warned an English vote for ‘Brexit’ could lead to a Scottish independence from the UK referendum.
Unions threaten Brexit
Yesterday (15 September), the GMB trade union passed a motion, stating it would campaign for the UK to leave the EU, if Cameron’s reforms stripped workers of EU social and employment rights.
In a motion for the 2015 Labour Party Conference, the Labour-affiliated union called on the UK’s opposition party to not support a vote to stay in the EU in that event.
“Conference deplores the actions of the Prime Minister, touring EU capitals and attempting to seek the agreement of other EU member state governments to rob British workers of the vital social and employment rights they have gained from Europe, making them third class citizens of the EU,” the motion read.
GMB demanded Labour insist Cameron give details of his plans before a proposed appearance at the European Parliament.
New Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, a veteran leftist and vocal supporter of trade unions, has faced questions over whether he will back Yes or No in the referendum.The vote must happen before the end of 2017 but could take place earlier.
The FSB survey, carried out by research company Verve, was published after Britain’s foreign-owned carmakers said they would not shut their plants were the country to leave the bloc, though future investment could be at risk.
A surge in Eurosceptism has firmly pushed the European Union up the political agenda in Britain.
The ruling Conservatives promised an in/out referendum on EU membership before the end of 2017 if they won the UK elections in May, placing Europe's future at the centre of the debate.
Prime Minister David Cameron has said he would campaign for the UK to stay, but only if the EU was able to reform, saying “Britain’s national interest is best served in a flexible, adaptable and open European Union.”
- Before end of 2017: UK referendum on EU membership