As avid exporters, manufacturers have a vested interest in the outcome of the EU referendum.
So I wasn’t overly surprised when our recent independent study – the first we’ve conducted since the referendum was announced last year – showed that six in ten of our member companies (61 per cent) want to remain in the EU, while 5 per cent support a ‘Brexit’.
The numbers speak for themselves, but the really interesting story is not so much about whether our member companies are ‘in’ or ‘out’, but about how they have formed their view.
The EU debate is heated and already frequently antagonistic. But against this fiery backdrop, our member companies have coolly and calmly weighed up the pros and cons of EU membership and have taken a pragmatic view.
There are absolutely no rose-tinted glasses here – our members are fully aware of the advantages and disadvantages and, on balance, have decided that the UK’s interests are best served by remaining in the EU.
As far as they are concerned, the main business advantage is the fact that it makes it easier for UK companies to start exporting (81 per cent). They also identify ease of travel between member states (77 per cent), access to a large export market (76 per cent) and one set of trading rules and regulations for 28 member states (73 per cent) as being advantageous to UK PLC.
At the same time, they perceive red tape (72 per cent) as the key disadvantage for business, followed by broader economic concerns such as the potential for slower economic growth in the EU to hold the UK back (49 per cent) and greater potential for economic contagion or disruption across markets (44 per cent).
Our members’ strong interest in exporting comes through clearly – just one in ten (10 per cent) do not or are not interested in exporting to our neighbours in the EU. Seven in ten (70 per cent) say remaining in the EU is important (50 per cent) or business critical (20 per cent) for their company. No surprise then that over eight in ten (82 per cent) say it doesn’t make sense for the UK to cut itself off from its major market.
There is little acceptance of the idea that the UK faces a choice between exporting to the EU and exporting globally – a concept frequently put forward by the ‘out’ camp, but which seems to hold little water for seasoned exporters. There is also broad recognition that trade deals today are negotiated between blocs rather than individual trading nations. But for me, the real value that manufacturers place on EU membership can be seen by the fact 82 per cent agree that the UK has a key role to play in helping the EU become more efficient and work harder for its member states.
Organisations like my own have a role to play in providing a platform and opportunity for healthy debate on this critical matter. We’re taking this seriously, recently arranging for both the ‘in’ and ‘out’ camps to speak at our National Manufacturing Conference, allowing our sector to further get to grips with the issues.
We are never going to suggest the EU is perfect – our members are fully aware and frank about the EU’s shortcomings. But they also value its benefits and strongly believe that the right way forward is to reform and improve rather than simply walk away.
Of course, views may change or harden. But as we head towards making what could be the biggest collective decision in our lifetime, it’s important for business to be engaged.
Taking a balanced and pragmatic view is the right way forward and something we will proudly continue to support.