EU referendum: Majority of Scots business chiefs back Remain

David Cameron delivered his latest keynote speech on the European Union at the British Museum in London. Picture: PA
David Cameron delivered his latest keynote speech on the European Union at the British Museum in London. Picture: PA
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More than two-thirds of Scottish business chiefs want the country to remain in the European Union after next month’s referendum, it has emerged.

There are concerns that growth could suffer if the UK leaves among more than a third (36.1 per cent) of firms who took part in a survey organised by the Scottish Chambers of Commerce (SCC), although slightly more said there will be no impact.

It came as Prime Minister David Cameron warned the prospect of the UK leaving the EU could jeopardise peace in Europe as he stepped up his war of words with Conservative rival Boris Johnson.

The outgoing London mayor said the EU’s “anti-democratic tendencies” were “a force for instability and alienation”.

Meanwhile, former first minister Alex Salmond warned again that if Scotland votes to stay in the EU while the rest of the UK opts to leave, it will lead to another vote on Scottish independence.

The SCC survey found that voting intentions have narrowed marginally among business leaders, with Leave now polling three percentage points higher at 22 per cent than in the SCC’s February survey.

But opinions among the 357 people who took part now appear set, with little prospect of change before the vote, according to SCC chief executive Liz Cameron.

She said: “The majority of businesses who took part indicated they would not be changing their views.

“Once the vote has been taken, we would again urge both the Scottish and Westminster parliaments to get back to running the country, ensuring that every piece of policy and legislation is supporting business growth. Delays have already impacted our economic growth.”

In total, 68.3 per cent of Scottish business leaders said they will vote to remain in the EU, with 22.9 per cent voting to leave. Some 36.1 per cent say growth could suffer under Brexit – but 41.1 per cent said there will be no impact.

The views in the rest of the UK are tightening, with 54 per cent supporting Remain and 37 per cent wishing to exit.

It comes as separate research by jobs website reed.co.uk, revealed more than 61.5 per cent of Scots employers are in favour of staying in the EU. It surveyed 1,700 firms across the UK. Chairman James Reed said: “More than half of UK employers think jobs would be at risk if the UK leaves the EU. And for many people, this is the harsh reality that could affect them most.”

Meanwhile, a poll by the Institute of Directors (IoD) of 1,224 of its members across the UK found 63 per cent backed Remain, up from 60 per cent in February, while 29 per cent supported Leave, down from 31 per cent.

The Prime Minister said in a keynote speech yesterday that the EU with Britain in it had helped bring together countries that had been “at each others’ throats for decades”.

He warned the peace and stability Europe has enjoyed in recent years could not be guaranteed, saying that leaving risked “the clock being turned back to an age of competing nationalism in Europe”.

Mr Cameron said it was barely two decades since the Bosnian war while, more recently, Russia has been at war with Georgia and Ukraine. Threats to stability from Russia, Islamic State, and the migration crisis require “unity of purpose” and underline the need for co-operation.

He also said it would be an “act of supreme irresponsibility” for Britain to risk triggering the collapse of the EU.

“Now is a time for strength in numbers. Now is the worst possible time for Britain to put that at risk. Only our adversaries will benefit.”

Vote Leave said “claims that leaving the EU and taking back control would somehow lead to war smack of desperation” and insisted the safe option was to quit.

And Mr Johnson – who gave his own speech in favour of Brexit little more than an hour after the PM’s – questioned Mr Cameron’s warnings.

He said: “I don’t think the Prime Minister can seriously believe that leaving the EU would trigger war on the European continent, given that he was prepared only a few months ago to urge that people should vote to leave if they failed to get a substantially reformed EU.

“I don’t believe that leaving the EU would cause World War III to break out on the European continent.”

And Mr Salmond urged the Prime Minister to make the positive case for remaining in the EU in a speech at the European Policy Centre in Brussels.

But he warned: “Should the result fall in favour of a vote to leave but Scotland had voted to remain, then the democratic decision becomes a constitutional conundrum.”

Conservative Crispin Blunt, who chairs the Commons foreign affairs select committee, announced he would be voting to leave, arguing that British “neuralgia” was preventing the development of an intelligent EU defence policy.

He said: “Our geography, history, culture and economic interest produce a much more qualified commitment to that ideal than that of our continental partners.”