Four out of five small and medium-sized business people voted to remain in the EU at the QCA annual conference in London yesterday.
Andrew Hilton, director of the Centre for the Study of Financial Innovation, said: “The cleavages that have opened up in UK politics are the deepest I’ve ever seen. They will not close up no matter what the result. They will poison British politics for the next generation.
“The damage has been done. There has been a realignment of politics. It’s going to be a very different political landscape after the referendum, whichever way we vote.”
Joe Twyman, YouGov’s European head of political and social research, told attendees: “Scotland and Northern Ireland have the potential to block the UK leaving the EU.
“Looking at it from a historical basis, we will see a move towards Leave as it’s new and exciting and then we’ll see a move back to the status quo before the referendum.
“I think a vote to leave will mean David Cameron resigning almost immediately. He’d be replaced by someone who supports Leave - Boris Johnson or Michael Gove. An election would be called ASAP. Labour would agree because they think they could win. They wouldn’t - the Conservatives would win.”
Mr Hilton agreed that a General Election would be likely if the UK votes to leave, but he envisaged a different scenario.
“Let’s say we vote to leave - there would be ructions in the Conservative party. It’s very possible the result would be a General Election, given the splits in the Tory party. I could see people voting for the Lib Dems and we could see a Lib Dem /Labour coalition.”
Mr Hilton said he doesn’t think a Brexit will happen.
“It will be 55 per cent vote to remain and 45 per cent vote against. Almost anybody under 40 is pro-European. Over 40, they are more sceptical.”
Mr Twyman said that the latest analysis by market research firm YouGov shows that 51 per cent of voters support remain and 49 per cent want a Brexit.
“We are neck and neck,” he told attendees.
“Asked what is most import to them, people say the economy, then sovereignty and then immigration. On June 23 it will be the economy that comes first. All the data says people think it’s a risk to leave the EU.”
He added that it will all come down to turnout and the proportion of people who decide to vote.
Those who support Brexit have criticised the decision to extend the deadline to register for voting.
Leave.EU co-founder Arron Banks, who wasn’t at the conference, said: “This isn’t some democratic initiative, it’s a desperate attempt by the establishment to register as many likely Remain voters as possible before polling day.
“We believe it is unconstitutional at best and have been advised that with legitimate cause we could challenge this extension.”
Rebecca Emerson, head of UK at management consultancy Oliver Wyman, said: “Our biggest worry about Brexit is the ability of staff to move around the EU. At the moment if British staff fly to Switzerland we have to get a visa. That costs money.”
Mr Twyman said a Brexit vote will mean nothing getting done in terms of Government.
“If that scenario plays out, the effects on companies could be enormous. If you’re a business you want to plan ahead.”
He added that European politicians could decide to behave vindictively to the UK if it votes for Brexit in order to show that leaving is the worst option. He said we should not assume politicians will behave rationally.
Asked who the Brexit winners could be, he said: “It’s hard to say because of the uncertainty about what it will look like. Would it be complete isolation of the Norway model?”
Four out of five small and medium sized business people voted to remain in the EU at the QCA annual conference in London on Thursday.
In a vote of attendees, 81 per cent voted to stay in the EU, 13 per cent voted for Brexit and 6 per cent said they didn’t know.
The conference was told that the UK referendum is the greatest risk to small cap companies.
Surprisingly 45 per cent said their business was “not at all prepared” for Brexit, whereas 28 per cent said they were “very” or “reasonably prepared.
Andrew Hilton, director of the Centre for the Study of Financial Innovation, told attendees: “Anybody who says there will be no disruption is crazy. In the short term, investment decisions will be delayed.”