UK business vote on EU 'up for grabs'

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The business vote on whether to remain in the European Union is "still up for grabs", the British Chambers of Commerce has said.

Of 2,000 business people it surveyed, 63% said they would vote to stay in the EU if asked now, with 27% voting "no".

But 50% said their final view depended on the outcome of Prime Minister David Cameron's negotiations over EU reform.

Meanwhile, a Business for Britain poll suggests small firms overwhelmingly think the EU hinders their business.

Among 601 owners of small and medium-sized firms surveyed, 74% wanted the UK to take back power to negotiate its own trade deals. Only 25% agreed with the rationale for a single market.

'Greater clarity needed'

In the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) poll, 40% of those questioned currently expect leaving the EU would have a negative impact on their overall growth strategy, 40% expect it would have no impact and 14% said it would have a positive impact.

John Longworth, director general of the BCC, said: "Many assume that the EU referendum is a simple in-out debate where both camps are firmly entrenched in their positions, but this survey shows that business people want more information and greater clarity, and for now at least their vote is still up for grabs.

"With half keeping their options open before making up their mind on how to vote, business's top concerns need to be at the top of Downing Street's negotiation agenda."

He added: "Business people are demanding a real shift in the balance of power between the UK and Brussels in any deal. Clear safeguards for the UK, and greater decision-making here at home, are at the top of their priority list."

Business people are following the EU debate closely, with 51% reading about it at least weekly, and a further 26% at least every fortnight, according to the survey, which was conducted during two weeks in August.

When asked about the impact of a future change in the UK's status in the EU on their business, 46% of business people expected a negative impact, but the same amount expected either no impact or a positive impact.

'Lifeblood of economy'

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Media captionHoward Shore: "Britain in wonderful position to negotiate over EU treaty"

The Business for Britain survey was commissioned by the chairman of Shore Capital, Howard Shore, who said that the regulatory environment and EU interference in business was making it tough for wealth creators to operate.

The survey suggested that 69% of business people running small and medium-sized (SMEs) firms believed that the UK can trade and co-operate with Europe without giving away permanent control over its economy.

Matthew Elliott, chief executive of Business for Britain, said: "Business opinion is divided over Britain's relationship with the EU, yet a majority of SMEs - the lifeblood of the economy - want to see powers flowing back to Britain.

"It is particularly damning that by two-to-one SMEs think the EU is hindering them, not helping them, and this shows why Britain must take back control of how it trades in a dynamic, globalised economy."

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