As Europe’s heads of government gather in Brussels to discuss Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s economic growth proposals, the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) is today (Thursday) publishing its latest EU Business Barometer, which tracks the attitude of UK firms toward Britain’s place in the European Union.

The latest survey of more than 3,500 businesses shows that British firms continue to see a recast UK-EU relationship, with Britain remaining a member of the Union, as the most favourable outcome of the ongoing EU debate.  More than half of businesses (57%) believe that remaining a member of the EU, with more powers brought back to Westminster, would be positive.

The most notable shift since the Q2 survey is that negative views have diminished on remaining in the EU with no relationship change (down 7% on the quarter to 38% of firms saying this outcome would be negative), and on remaining in the EU with further integration (39% of firms see this as a negative outcome, down 7% on the quarter).

The results of the Q3 EU Business Barometer show: 

  • Business respondents view remaining in the European Union, but with specific powers transferred from Brussels back to Westminster, most positively. 57% of firms view this scenario as positive, 18% say it would have no impact, 9% view it negatively, and 16% don’t know.
  • Business respondents view full withdrawal from the European Union most negatively. 59% of firms view this scenario as negative, 12% say it would have no impact, 13% say it would be positive, and 16% don’t know. However 28% of firms view withdrawal combined with a formal UK-EU free trade agreement as a positive scenario.
  • Business respondents view further UK integration with the EU negatively — but less negatively than in previous surveys. 39% of firms view this scenario as negative (- 7% on the last quarter), 16% say it would have no impact, 23% view it positively (+3% on the last quarter) and 22% don’t know. 
  • Business respondents view ‘no change’ to the UK-EU relationship negatively - but again, less so than in previous surveys. 38% view this scenario as negative (- 7% on the last quarter), 38% no impact, 15% don’t know and 9% positive. Notably, fewer than one in ten firms see ‘no change’ as a positive outcome to the EU debate. 

 Commenting, John Longworth, BCC Director General, said:

“British firms are pragmatic when it comes to Europe. A majority of businesses continue to tell us that they want to remain in the European Union, but with a reformed relationship that sees a substantial shift of power from Brussels back to member-states. In a nutshell, companies support the Prime Minister’s 'reform and renegotiation' agenda, but are unsure of whether and how it can actually be delivered.

“While Britain’s domestic debate on EU membership continues, it is crucial for European leaders to take decisive action to support growth in the UK and all 28 member-states. The European Council must fast-track reforms that deliver a real single market in services and e-commerce — which would benefit Britain’s world-beating professional services and digital companies by enabling them to trade more easily across borders. Businesses want fewer barriers to trade and investment across Europe, but they also want clear safeguards for member-states like the UK that are not interested in further integration.

“While UK business remains level-headed on Europe, it is unfortunate that the Europhobes and Europhiles continue to dominate the debate. Their extreme positions – “exit now” or “in at all costs” – are a turn-off to businesspeople who want to see a pragmatic outcome that is squarely in the interests of UK growth and prosperity.”