THE BLOG
04/11/2013 10:05 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 10:52 GMT

Forget in or Out - Business Wants a Better EU Deal Based on Trade

On Friday last week, Business for Britain - the campaign for a better deal with the EU backed by over 750 leading British business people - released details of the largest and most comprehensive poll yet conducted of UK business opinion on our relationship with Brussels.

On Friday last week, Business for Britain - the campaign for a better deal with the EU backed by over 750 leading British business people - released details of the largest and most comprehensive poll yet conducted of UK business opinion on our relationship with Brussels.

For Britain and the European Union: What business thinks, polling company YouGov asked a thousand business leaders, representative of UK business sizes, sectors and locations, a series of questions on the Single Market, an EU referendum, and what they want from renegotiation.

The results paint a startlingly different picture to that currently put forward by the media and (certain) politicians. British business leaders want treaty change that returns Britain's relationship with the EU to one based primarily on trade, not politics. Business also wants to see nine key regulatory areas returned to the control of Westminster. The reasons for wanting this change are clear - business leaders say the costs of complying with the Single Market now outweigh the benefits of being in the EU and want to see the relationship re-calibrated.

Contrast this with today's poll by the CBI, who surveyed around 400 of their members and found overwhelming support for staying in the EU, and you see the way the debate has changed - business is no longer debating 'in' or 'out', it is now focussed on what it wants back in David Cameron's renegotiation. Our poll makes it clear that the majority of UK business leaders want a deal that repatriates powers and drastically reduces the burden of EU regulation.

As part of Business for Britain's poll, we asked our business leaders if their firms would close if Britain left the EU. In retrospect, we realise that answers to this question would be a value judgement, rather than a business decision, and that without an accurate idea of what Britain's trading position outside of the union would look like, the results were more reflective of our respondents' passion for the EU than the economic reality of what leaving would entail.

It is also worth bearing in mind that ten years ago there were many business leaders saying that their companies would fold if Britain didn't join the Euro. Witness this letter to Tony Blair signed by 30 pre-eminent UK CEOs in 2003, which warned that to rule out joining the single currency would be "damaging for British-based businesses, British employees and the British economy as a whole."

Nevertheless, the answers to this question have been seized upon by those who want Britain to stay in the EU at all costs, most notably Vince Cable. We welcome their support for our poll and it is particularly good to see them taking our research seriously as the most authoritative study of British business opinion.

Business for Britain's polling found that a majority of UK business leaders (across the sectors, and small, medium and large companies) want to see treaty change; they want to see powers repatriated; and they want Britain's relationship with Brussels to be based on trade, not politics.

We hope Vince Cable and others will line up with us to push for what the UK business community really wants when the time for renegotiation comes.