UK businesses favour more free trade but less integration in Europe

British businesses value free trade with other countries across Europe but are unsure about the value of deeper integration in the European Union, according to a new survey from the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC).

Ahead of a meeting of EU leaders, the business group questioned more than 7,500 companies, asking firms of all sizes about what type of trading relationship with other European nations would most benefit their business in the long term.

A significant proportion of businesspeople are unsure or unaware of whether links to the rest of Europe benefit them. More than half (55%) of all respondents are uncertain about which trading relationship with Europe would be best for their business, including a third of exporters and two thirds of non-exporters.?

Of those who expressed an opinion on the matter, 51% of exporters believe that Europe should be a free trade area while less than a third (31%) support the concept of an economic union. A free trade area would allow the free movement of goods and services but would not have the EU’s social and economic integration, so firms would be less burdened by European regulation and legislation.

Commenting on the survey’s findings, John Longworth, BCC director general, said that businesses want to see more free trade but less integration across Europe. Noting that some companies said that they found it as easy to increase their trade with some non-EU countries as it was to increase their trade with other EU countries, he called on ministers to push hard to remove barriers to free trade among European countries, to make the single market work better.

Despite their scepticism about the EU’s ever closer union, British businesses still support UK membership: just 4.4% of all respondents favoured leaving the European Union altogether and agreeing bilateral trade agreements with individual European countries.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the ongoing crisis in the eurozone, only 3.9% of respondents expressed support for UK entry into a monetary union.