ALMOST a third of Scottish business owners believe the UK should pull out of Europe amid concerns over rising costs and fears that struggling countries will drag others down with them, according to a new survey.
The scepticism about the benefits of membership of the European Union (EU) was revealed just a day after the CBI urged David Cameron to “tread very carefully” in the debate over the UK’s future within Europe.
“Businesses don’t want the baby thrown out with the bathwater – not with 50 per cent of our exports heading to Europe,” stressed the CBI’s director-general John Cridland.
But according to the Business Barometer survey compiled by Close Brothers Asset Finance, 32 per cent of small and medium-sized in Scotland now believe the UK should leave the EU.
Of those respondents, 44 per cent cited concerns over risks posed by failing economies within the EU and the potential impact on the UK.
A further 43 per cent believe that the domestic economy would be better off if it left the EU.
Mike Randall, chief executive of Close Brothers Asset Finance, said the findings suggested that business owners seem to be questioning how much the EU really costs the UK.
“It’s not just how much we currently contribute to the budget that is worrying – it was approximately £12 billion in 2012 – but also how much they’re asking us to contribute over the next two years, a total rise of 5 per cent.
“When we joined the EEC some 40 years ago we thought we were joining a large, prosperous market but the reality now is that the benefits are being questioned. As a nation, we continue to struggle financially and the mood is that the never-ending eurozone crisis could threaten to bring the UK down with it,” he said.
The survey also revealed that of those who do not think the UK should quit the EU, 25 per cent think that it could easily isolate it and that being part of the European community offers significant advantages when it comes to competing in a global marketplace.
“What’s clear is that firms are seeking stability and reassurance that their best efforts to recover won’t be thwarted by a greater force. The government appears to be making plans for a more flexible agreement with Europe that will protect the best interests of British industry and business,” said Randall. “Hopefully any new settlement will make businesses here feel comfortable and supported in their plans for future growth,” he added.
On Thursday, Cridland had reiterated his call for “a reasoned approach” to the UK’s relationship with the EU.
His comments came ahead of the Prime Minister’s speech on the subject in Amsterdam which was delayed yesterday due to the Algerian hostage crisis.
“We need to recognise and adapt to the realities of the multi-speed Europe which is emerging,” Cridland said.
“The fallout in the eurozone from the debt crisis is not just forcing through rapid political and financial integration. It is also forcing all countries to fundamentally rethink the EU’s wider purpose and deal urgently with the sort of structural flaws Europe has ignored for decades.
Cridland added it was essential the UK “stayed at the table to bang the drum for business and defend our national interest”.