Small businesses want looser ties to EU

Eight out of ten small businesses in the UK do not want further integration with the European Union (EU), a poll by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) has found.

Surveying 1,840 businesses, it revealed that 12 per cent of firms want to leave the EU altogether, while almost half (47 per cent) wanted to see 'looser' ties to the EU although still remaining an EU member.

Only one in ten businesses (nine per cent) wanted Britain to become more integrated with the EU.

Talking to BBC Radio 5, director general of the BCC John Longworth said that the effect of the Eurozone crisis had had an impact on small businesses views.

"There's also been a general opinion amongst businesses that I've visited around the country that the burden of legislation and regulation from Europe is beginning to outweigh the advantages of being in the European Union," he said.

Of those businesses that wanted a different relationship with the EU, over half (55 per cent) wanted a referendum on EU membership as a medium-term priority of the Government to be dealt with in the next five years. A further 40 per cent wanted to see a referendum within the next 12 months.

Announcing the findings, John Longworth said: "Nearly four decades after Britain joined the European community, it is astonishing that British firms seem to feel that the balance of advantage of EU membership is lessening. Businesses are pragmatic: they want to be part of a European single market, but only if it delivers real and open access for British goods and services."

Last week, foreign secretary William Hague launched an official audit of European Union powers and their impact on the UK. The 'comprehensive audit', due to conclude in 2014, will not be completed in time for discussion at the EU summit in December 2012.

William Hague said: "Britain must take the opportunities to shape its relationship with Europe in ways that advance our national interest in free trade, open markets and co-operation."

The audit will seek views from MPs, UK businesses and EU institutions on EU strategy.

The BCC said that any decision on Britain's relationship with the EU should be made 'carefully'.

"Both the government and the opposition should carefully consider how we can get a single market that works for business while ensuring that legislation from Brussels doesn't damage our economic prospects," John Longworth added.