Business opinion increasingly divided over EU future

The latest wave of IFF’s Business Omnibus has revealed increasingly divided business opinion between those in favour and those against remaining part of the EU.

With the date of the EU referendum now set for the 23rd June and both sides’ campaigns in full swing, the debate over the UK’s future in the EU is heating up and producing its fair share of controversy. A central theme of the arguments – on both sides of the table – has been about the economy and the impact a departure from the EU would have on British businesses.

IFF has been tracking the views of UK firms since August last year, when we reported that all was to play for in the battleground for the business vote. In the following four months, we saw a drop in Euroscepticism – the proportion of businesses saying that it would be in their business’s best interests for the UK to leave the EU fell from 31% in August to 16% in December. Since then, however, business opinion has become divided once again, with 32% saying it would be in their interests to remain in the EU and 26% saying it would be best to leave. Of course, it is individuals rather than businesses that will cast their votes in June, and it is notable that those speaking on behalf of larger businesses are more likely to adopt a pro-EU stance; more than half (57%) of those with 250+ employees felt it was in their best interests to remain part of the EU, compared with 31% of sole traders.

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We speculated in August last year that the Conservative line on Europe might play a significant role, as the majority of business representatives said that they are the best party for businesses like theirs: 42% vs 5% Labour at that point. Now it has become clear that there is no Conservative line on Europe; individual members of the Cabinet have declared their position – with several high profile ministers backing the Vote Leave campaign. It will be interesting to see what impact this split may have on business opinion in the run up to the poll, and also to see whether there is a knock-on impact on businesses’ perceptions of which party best reflects their interests. Since the Cabinet came out on different sides, the proportion of businesses advocating Labour as the best party for businesses like theirs has doubled (from 5% to 10%), although the Conservatives still hold a very clear lead (35%).

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