Four out of ten small firms will vote to quit EU

In sharp contrast to widespread support for continuing membership from large employers, 47 per cent of smaller companies said that they would vote to stay in the EU, a poll of more than 6,000 members of the Federation of Small Businesses has revealed.

The business group said that a significant proportion of those running small companies regarded the EU as an “unnecessary, burdensome organisation” that imposed troublesome red tape, reports The Times.

Small businesses were relatively united in their desire for reforms in areas such as European health and safety and employment regulations, regardless of their voting intentions in the referendum, which is due to take place before the end of 2017, the FSB found.

Only slightly more than 33 per cent of small businesses said that the EU was beneficial for their businesses, and more than 40 per cent saw no benefit from the UK’s membership.

The FSB study highlighted regional differences. Nearly 50 per cent of companies in the Yorkshire and Midlands regions planned to vote for a Brexit, compared with 25.7 per cent of Scottish businesses. Businesses in London and Northern Ireland were 55 per cent in favour of remaining in the EU. Female business owners were more pro-EU than their male counterparts.

Of those who want Britain to remain a member, 56 per cent are hoping for reforms such as the transfer of some powers back to the UK, compared with 38.7 per cent who want the UK’s relationship with the EU to remain the same or become even closer. Companies that plan to vote to stay were more likely to be exporters and employers of non-UK European workers.

Business owners who want the nation to give up its membership said leaving would provide an opportunity to strengthen ties with powerful markets elsewhere in the world and agree looser trade settlements with the EU and its member states.

The FSB noted that widespread negative views about the EU from smaller employers were often “driven by feelings and general impressions rather than specific facts or experiences”.

Small companies planning to vote to leave were often unable to provide specific examples of how the EU was affecting their businesses, the FSB study found. The group also noted a sizeable proportion of company owners believed that the outcome of the referendum would have no impact on their business.