Support for British membership of the European Union (EU) is rapidly declining in British board rooms, a new report has found, dropping by 12 per cent in just six months.
The fall in support goes hand in hand with pessimism for the business outlook across the region, but more bosses are also looking to see which renegotiations Cameron can secure before making up their minds.
Sixty-two per cent of chief financial officers (CFOs) with Britain’s largest businesses now favour the UK remaining within the EU, down from 74 per cent last summer, accountancy firm Deloitte has found. British Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to call a referendum on the matter by the end of 2017.
Twenty-eight per cent of the 137 CFOs drawn from FTSE 350 companies and surveyed by Deloitte said their decision depends on the outcome of the Prime Minister’s renegotiation of the terms of Britain’s membership, up from 23 per cent in Q2.
“The twin moves in CFO opinion about the EU in the last six months have been towards greater uncertainty and a narrowing of the lead for the ‘Yes’ camp. The ’don’t knows’ and those whose decision will depend on the results of the renegotiation now account for 32 per cent of all CFOs, up from 24 percent in Q2,” the report notes.
David Sproul, senior partner and chief executive of Deloitte, said: “A clear majority of CFOs continue to favour the UK remaining in the EU, but the proportion of those expressing unqualified support has fallen. This mirrors what we have seen from the broader public in opinion polls in the last six months.
“With around one third of CFOs undecided on their position or awaiting the outcome of renegotiation discussions, the eventual deal may well significantly affect business attitudes to EU membership.”
A belief in the strength of the British markets when compared to the EU may have contributed to the results: six percent of CFOs now think that UK business would benefit from leaving the EU, up from two per cent last summer. At the same time, the survey found that 68 per cent were positive about the prospects of growth in Britain this year, whereas just 25 per cent were positive about growth on the continent in 2016.
This puts optimism for the EU market behind even that of emerging markets, as 27 per cent said they thought those markets would enjoy growth this year. Meanwhile, a massive 82 per cent expect to see growth in the US economy in 2016.
Ian Stewart, chief economist at Deloitte, said: “CFOs are most positive about growth in the UK and US in 2016. But despite stronger than expected growth in the euro area in 2015, UK CFOs remain pessimistic about prospects for the region. Levels of confidence about growth in the euro area are lower than for emerging market economies.
Support for EU membership has been steadily diminishing among the wider public in light of the migrant crisis besetting Europe. A Survation poll published on November 13 – the same day that Paris was again hit by Islamic terrorism – showed that 53 percent of those polled just days earlier wanted to leave, against 47 who wanted to remain, giving the Leave campaign a six point lead.
A similar poll in mid-December found the two camps on equal footing, with 50 per cent wanting to leave against the same number wanting to remain.