Just one per cent of Britain’s business leaders support withdrawing from the European Union, according to research from Ipsos Mori.
The Captain’s of Industry survey found that while a renegotiation of the UK’s relationship with Europe would be welcomed by many, the overwhelming majority of businesses back retaining a relationship with the continent.
The results could have implications for UKIP’s Parliamentary ambitions, as Europe promises to be a key battlefield in the upcoming General Election.
More than 100 executive directors and chairmen from the UK’s top 500 companies and leading financial institutions took part in the research between September and December.
Just under half (45 per cent) of respondents said they would be happy for the UK to maintain its current position in Europe.
However, an equal proportion said they would welcome a distancing that maintained trade relations but distanced the UK politically.
Matthew Chatterton, director at Ipsos Mori, told The Yorkshire Post: “Britain’s business leaders either want things to continue much as they are now or, if anything, in a slightly more ‘light touch’ way,” he said.
“What they don’t like is too much regulation coming from Europe but what they do like is access to the single market. They like being able to reach customers across Europe, they like being able to trade across borders and uncertainty about whether they might lose that is what makes them nervous.”
Deepening the UK’s involvement in Europe was more popular than withdrawing from the Union, but still only backed by four per cent.
Mr Chatterton said the results were in line with previous surveys that had shown that British business is frustrated by regulation but also “doesn’t like uncertainty”.
He said: “Anything that raises the potential for uncertainty about where Britain stands in Europe is going to be a cause for concern for them in future.”
A spokesman for UKIP said the survey does not address the impact of EU membership on small and medium-sized businesses.
He said: “This survey says what every survey of big business always says. Big business supports the European corporate state. Of course it does.
“The EU regulatory burden falls disproportionately upon small and medium sized business, thus keeping back competition. The EU free movement of people allows big business to maintain downward pressure on wages, which increase its own profits at the expense of UK workers.
“But despite all this, a full 45 per cent would like, as UKIP do, for Britain just to have a trading relationship with Europe, equal to those who which to maintain the status quo.
“The sad truth is that there is no such thing as the status quo as the EU is continually adding new rules, regulations and burdens.”
The survey found that regulatory burden is a significant source of contention for British business.
Almost four out of five respondents said the total level of regulation - not just that from Europe - is harming the UK economy.
However, Ipsos Mori noted that the proportion of those who ‘strongly agree’ on the matter is down from 44 per cent in 2010 to 28 per cent in 2014. “This may suggest that businesses are either becoming accustomed to increasing regulation, or that the burden has improved a little in recent years,” the research said.