Businesses want 'looser' EU ties

Half of British businesses with a view on the country's future in the European Union want a "looser" relationship with Brussels, a survey has shown.

Only 12% of members asked by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) said they wanted the UK to withdraw altogether, while 9% backed further integration and 26% were happy with the status quo.

But the most popular option - with 47% of votes - was that "a looser relationship should be negotiated" within the EU. With 6% unsure, that is half of expressed opinions.

Of those that backed any sort of change, 40% said they believed it should be put to a referendum within the next 12 months while another 55% favoured a national poll within five years.

BCC director general John Longworth said: "These results clearly show that British businesses do not want further integration with the EU. Although only a small proportion of firms hold extreme views on whether to leave or stay, nearly half of companies say they want a renegotiated, 'looser' membership within the European Union.

"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."

The political establishment needs to "tread carefully and avoid rushed political decisions on the shape of Britain's future relationship with the EU", he added.

"Instead, 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."

Around 7,500 BCC member businesses, selected at random from among those who responded to previous surveys about international trade and supply chains, were approached by email and 1,840 took part.