How certain is business opinion over Brexit?

15/04/2016 By Annette White


It is widely assumed (by those who want Britain to remain in the European Union) that UK businesses support Britain’s continued membership. The truth of this will be known in 10 weeks’ time, but research collected by BVA BDRC’s Business Opinion Omnibus suggests there is much greater uncertainty among business leaders than you might think.

Between the 7th and 17th of March, BVA BDRC interviewed 500 business owners and decision-makers. We wanted to know two things:

  1. How certain business leaders are about how they intend to vote
  1. How they intend to vote based on their current understanding of Britain’s relationship with the EU

Before reporting the results, the data was weighted to reflect the UK business population.

EU Referendum Infographic

UK business is a highly receptive audience

94% of UK business leaders claim they intend to vote in the forthcoming EU referendum. Few demographic groups can match this level of engagement and the power of this group to influence employees and peers should not be underestimated. As such the business vote could be a key factor in the final outcome.

But there is considerable uncertainty about whether to vote ‘in’ or ‘out’

When asked if they know how they will vote, 38% of UK business leaders have already made up their mind. 25% think they know but admit they could be influenced to change their mind, and 34% claim their decision is fully dependent on the arguments they hear in the next 10 weeks.

So what does the current voting intention look like?

  • 47% claim they are likely to vote to stay in but only half (48%) say they are certain they will vote this way
  • 30% claim they are likely to vote to leave but again only half (53%) say they are certain they will vote this way
  • The remaining 23% are completely undecided

The business vote is there to be won or lost by either side

Clearly the business audience is receptive but the level of uncertainty is telling. That more than half of those surveyed told us they are not certain how they will vote illustrates that, so far, neither side has succeeded in putting forward a convincing argument.

For those wanting Britain to remain in the EU it is dangerous to assume UK business leaders will vote with them.  Similarly those wanting Britain to leave should realise the business vote is not a foregone conclusion.

The size of the opportunity is clear: while six in 10 business leaders are open to persuasion, the business vote can be won or lost by either side.

BVA BDRC’s quarterly Business Opinion Omnibus delivers the views of real business people running active SMEs and corporates.  To find out more about our research with SMEs, email Annette White or read more at BVA BDRC’s Business Opinion Omnibus