Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are in favour of the UK remaining in the European Union, but only by a small minority and with many firms still undecided, according to new data from Close Brothers.
44% of SME owners and managers in the latest Close Brothers Business Barometer say they do not want the UK to leave the European Union, against 39% who support Brexit. However, 17% of respondents said they are unsure about which way to vote in next month’s referendum, leaving plenty of room for either side to take a decisive lead.
The firm says the close nature of the debate reflects uncertainty about the impact Brexit would have on many businesses – 34% of firms say leaving the EU would have a positive effect on their business, but exactly the same number say the impact would be negative. 32% say they’re not sure what the effect would be.
“It is very clear that the debate over Brexit remains close and extremely finely balanced,” said David Thomson, CEO of Close Brothers Invoice Finance. “The level of uncertainty about the impact of the UK leaving the EU has left many business owners and managers unsure about how to vote in the referendum. Campaigners for both sides will need to make powerful arguments over the next few weeks in order to convince leaders in the SME sector to join them.”
Amongst those SMEs in favour of Brexit, 34% believe they would experience faster growth with reduced regulation and red tape, while 33% anticipate either reduced import costs for raw materials or increased export opportunities. In contrast, amongst those against the UK leaving the EU, 38% worry about the increased costs associated with trading in Europe, while 36% fear reduced export opportunities.
“The impact of Brexit would vary from business to business, depending on the specific nature of their trade,” added Thomson. “There are both risks and opportunities for SMEs whatever the outcome of the referendum, but business owners and managers must now weigh up these difficult issues in order to decide where the balance lies for them. Either way, it is vital that firms are sufficiently well-funded to weather any potential storms.”