A majority of companies believe a British exit from the EU could harm them but only 7% would be willing to speak out publicly against “Brexit”, according to a survey of FTSE-350 firms.
The latest barometer of boardroom sentiment by the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators (ICSA) draws parallels with last year’s referendum on Scottish independence, when many businesses waited until close to the vote to voice their views.
“In a similar way to the Scottish independence referendum, relatively few companies seem to be willing, at the moment at least, to make their views known,” said the report.
ICSA found 63% of the company representatives who responded to the survey viewed a UK exit from the EU as potentially damaging to their company. A third thought it would have no impact and 3% saw it as a positive development for their business. ICSA would not say what proportion of FTSE-350 companies responded.
Asked if their company would be prepared to speak out publicly for the UK to remain in the EU, the majority, or 61%, responded “don’t know”, a third said no and 7% said yes.
The ICSA report echoed other recent surveys suggesting uncertainty around EU membership and nervousness about the government’s position was curbing investment and expansion plans.
While only a fraction of those surveyed said they would go on the record opposing Brexit, the big business lobby groups have been vocal about what they see as the benefits of remaining in a reformed EU.
The CBI recently drew criticism from the business secretary, Sajid Javid, for its high-profile campaign to see Britain remain in the EU.
The government, which is calling an in-out referendum on continued membership of the EU, wants to negotiate changes with its European partners and Javid said the CBI had been showing a commitment to remaining part of the EU even without these reforms.
“Supporters of Britain staying in the EU say continued membership will preserve jobs, trade links and investment. But those who favour leaving say new trade deals could be negotiated and that freedom from the rules, as well as the costs, that come with EU membership would make Britain more prosperous.