EU referendum: Brexit debate shows diversity of business opinion

Stephan Shakespeare
Follow Stephan
Eurozone Formulates Response To Greek Rejection
Business will be a crucial battleground in the referendum on Britain's EU membership (Source: Getty)

The voice of the business community will be crucial in the EU referendum – but how can we know what that voice really is?

To get a better idea, YouGov looked at three distinct groups, interviewing 15 leaders of FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 companies, and surveyed 42 digital entrepreneurs (in partnership with Founders Forum), and 500 small businesses.

Unsurprisingly, the business community is not a monolith – but the division is clear; large companies and digital entrepreneurs strongly favour remaining in the EU, but small business are more divided.

Exploring the topic further I hosted an event with Founders Forum. Big names such as Chris Grigg, the chief executive of British Land, Telefonica UK boss Ronan Dunne and Richard Johnston, chief executive at Endemol Shine UK, favoured staying in the EU, although some expressed grumpiness that the “unnecessary” referendum is happening in the first place – basically asking “why risk something that isn’t working that badly?”

Hotelier Rocco Forte, on the other hand, spoke for the eurosceptics, arguing that if Iceland can negotiate a good deal outside the EU, then so can the much more powerful Britain.

Since the banking crisis, business leaders have largely shied away from the limelight but business will be a crucial battleground in the referendum.

Although few corporates jumped into last year’s Scottish referendum, when they did they made an impact. A large proportion of the public understood that when it came to jobs and the general economy, what was bad for business was also bad for them.

My research among business leaders found that many companies regard it a duty, to be involved in this referendum. “This time it’s about the head not the heart,” one said, “and we have a positive role to play.”

During the campaign we’ll hear from big corporations, but maybe not as loudly from small companies that account for around 60 per cent of British employees.

Understanding what the different parts of the business community think will be a major part of the referendum and is something I’ll explore in greater depth in the coming months.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.