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The UK business community’s split over the EU points to a lack of information from the government

Anna Sonny, 18 September 2015

Britain’s EU membership is not just dividing the country’s politicians; it is also dividing UK business. This week, a survey from the Federation of Small Businesses showed that small businesses in Britain are not overwhelmingly for or against EU membership – with 47% voting to stay in, 41% voting to leave, and 11% being undecided.

But just this week, Tim Tozer, managing director of Vauxhall, said that Britain leaving the EU would not have a negative impact on business at all, because in the event of Brexit we would surely negotiate a free trade agreement with the EU – this would be mutually beneficial as the UK is an important market for the EU. In fact, being free to negotiate her own agreements outside of the EU’s customs union, Britain could potentially negotiate more deals with other booming countries that the EU is yet to make deals with, such as China and India.

Nissan, despite previously raising questions over its future in the UK in the event of Brexit, saying they would have to reconsider their strategy and investments for the future, has announced that it will spend £100 million investing in its Sunderland plant, and said it had no plans to pull out of the UK, whether Britain votes to stay in or to leave the EU.

Big businesses do have more weight in Brussels and more money to absorb costs – smaller manufacturers in the UK are much more likely to feel the burden of red tape and regulations flowing in from Brussels. So the FSB’s report gave a slightly unexpected result with more in favour of remaining in the EU, and shows that there are deep concerns among small businesses that need to be dealt with.

The division in Britain’s business community also points to a lack of clear, unbiased information from the government on what steps the country would take in the event of Brexit, all of which contributes to an atmosphere of uncertainty over Britain’s possible departure from the EU.

Vicky Redwood from Capital Economics points out that there is a world-wide move towards lower trade barriers, and that the EU’s common external tariff has fallen to 4 per cent; surely Britain could survive and even thrive outside of the EU in these conditions. Yet one of the biggest problems for the ‘Out’ campaign is shifting the status quo – the uncertainty engendered by leaving could be enough to make the ordinary voter elect to remain in the EU. The same is also true of businesses; those performing well in the current circumstances would most likely not welcome any change that Brexit would bring.

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