UK small businesses are evenly split on Brexit, poll says

But most SMEs expect British public to vote to remain in the EU in June referendum, survey finds

David Beckham
David Beckham, along with David Cameron, is favoured as campaign leader by pro-EU small businesses. Photograph: Beretta/Sims/Rex/Shutterstock

Small businesses are evenly split about whether Britain should leave the EU, but most expect the public to vote to remain on 23 June, according to a poll.

The research consultancy TNS found that 37% of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) favoured Brexit while 38% wanted to stay in the single market. A resounding 68% expected the UK to remain, citing the public’s desire for economic stability and fear of change.

One in four SMEs had not decided how to vote and many did not feel well-informed about how leaving the EU would affect their business.

Those that had a view often gave personal reasons. Cheap holidays and wine, but also economic stability and free trade were given as reasons for staying.

Those wanting to leave cited “British values”, restoring independence and controlling immigration. Half of all respondents could not give a clear business reason for both sides of the argument.

Big companies overwhelmingly want to stay in the EU and are represented by high-profile bodies such as the Confederation of British Industry (CBI). SMEs, which make up more than half of UK private sector employment, get less attention.

The TNS poll of more than 500 businesses suggests a shift towards leaving the EU since a larger survey in September found 47% in favour of staying and 41% wanting to quit.

Amy Cashman, TNS’s UK managing director of financial services and technology, said: “While some SME owners are backing Brexit, the high proportion of those predicting that the UK will remain in the EU shows that fear of the unknown is likely to be a deciding factor. The reasons given by SME owners for voting, on both sides of the debate, show that the Brexit debate is influenced by passions and personal preferences.”

TNS conducted an online survey of 502 companies with fewer than 250 employees in May.

Pro-Brexit SMEs mentioned former mayor of London Boris Johnson and Ukip leader Nigel Farage when asked who would be the best campaign leaders for Vote Leave. Pro-EU respondents favoured footballer David Beckham and David Cameron. Both sides said Lord Sugar and Sir Richard Branson, who favour staying in the EU, would be good campaign leaders as well as the Queen, who has stayed neutral.