Eastern region firms ‘want to stay in EU’, survey finds

Paul Naylor, practice leader of Grant Thornton’s Ipswich office

Paul Naylor, practice leader of Grant Thorntons Ipswich office - Credit: Archant

More than half of businesses in the eastern region strongly feel the UK should remain a member of the European Union (EU), according to new research from the Ipswich office of accountancy firm Grant Thornton.

A poll carried out by the firm found 51% of companies, including a proportion from Suffolk, said retaining EU membership would be most beneficial for the UK economy.

A further 32% said the UK should remain part of Europe - but only if David Cameron’s conditions are met. Only 3% of companies polled want to cut ties with Europe altogether.

When asked about the main reasons why local companies wanted to remain part of Europe, an overwhelming 76% stated access to a large, easy market, while a further 46% said the millions of jobs linked to EU membership was a key factor.

Just over a quarter of businesses (27%) cited ease of access to work and travel abroad, with 20% saying the flow of inward investment from Europe was an important consideration.

Of the 3% of businesses wanting to exit the EU, the majority said the main reasons were too much EU legislation holding back the UK’s economic progress and the billions of pounds which could be saved in membership fees.

Paul Naylor, practice leader of Grant Thornton’s Ipswich office, said the UK’s relationship with Europe had to be a top priority for the new government.

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“An EU referendum looks a certainty, but our research indicates that in the eastern region at least, the result would be a resounding ‘yes’ to remain in the EU - although almost a third said this would depend on David Cameron negotiating a package of reforms,” he said.

“The strength of the economic recovery largely depends on rebalancing the UK’s trade deficit but with uncertainty around our future in Europe, many of the region’s businesses may be adopting a ‘wait and see approach’ to expanding into overseas markets.

“This is highlighted by the latest Grant Thornton/ ICAEW Business Confidence Monitor which found that while financial performance has improved, goods exports from the East of England to the EU fell by 12% in the second quarter of 2015 – certainly a worrying sign.”

Grant Thornton’s regional research is backed up by the results of the firm’s latest International Business Report which revealed attitudes to the EU from businesses across the trade free zone. The findings show that almost three quarters of UK businesses (72%) are worried about an exit from the EU, while 64% of European businesses are also concerned about a ‘Brexit’.

Mr Naylor urged the Prime Minister to agree EU reforms without delay and put these to the vote in a referendum as soon as is practically possible.

“Only then will our region’s businesses be able to move forward with certainty into new markets and help speed up the pace of growth, sending out clear messages that Britain is ‘open for business’ and a dynamic place to invest in,” he said.