By Loukia Gyftopoulou
As the General Election looms, the EU debate seems to be taking a rather emotional turn for the public and politicians alike. But the UK business and accounting world appears to be assessing the in/out question on a more pragmatic basis.
According to two recent surveys, one conducted by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS) and another one sponsored by RSM International, a staggering majority of UK and European business leaders vehemently oppose a ‘Brexit’.
Although conducted on a small fraction of its members, the ICAS survey revealed that more than 82% of those asked strongly favoured the UK’s continued EU membership, while 31% of them supported a renegotiated relationship with the EU and just 11% wanted a Brexit.
The RSM-sponsored survey asked 437 business leaders from 32 European countries, 124 of whom were from the UK. Some 76% of UK-based business leaders believed the country is to have economic gains by staying.
Among the main reasons for staying were the economic advantages, including a strong trading position, free market, access to skilled workers and greater commercial opportunities.
The negative effects centred on the issues of bureaucracy, regulatory requirements, employment law, pension rules and identity.ICAS executive director of technical policy David Wood said a striking message from the survey was that if it left the EU, the UK "would be severely restricted in its ability to do things differently if it wanted to continue to access the EU’s single market and be internationally competitive".
Late last year ICAS said they would keep a neutral stance faced with the in/out question, but would try to inform the debate whenever possible, as it did with the Scottish referendum throughout 2014.
RSM International chief executive Jean Stephens said: "The Eurozone is the biggest trading partner for the United Kingdom and the potential impact of the UK exiting the EU would be significant to our clients around the world.
"This survey clearly shows that European and UK business leaders feel strongly that Europe must maintain its competitive edge in the global marketplace and that the UK’s membership is key to doing so."
The first UK professional body that surveyed its members on the EU debate was the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW).
Two surveys conducted in 2014 showed that about 80% of ICAEW members wanted the UK to stay in the EU as they believed benefits businesses.
However, some 35% wanted to see elements of the arrangements with Europe renegotiated, whereas almost half, 45%, wanted to stay in the EU regardless
Should a referendum take place, the official position of ICAEW would reflect that of its members, ICAEW chief executive Michael Izza told The Accountant last year.
The Institute of Financial Accountants (IFA) chief executive David Woodgate said IFA would remain neutral but admitted as a "sweeping generalisation" that being part of the EU was better for business, although some reforms were needed.
Speaking in his personal capacity Woodgate told The Accountant that he would not want the UK to pull out of the EU as it could damage the long-term prospects of the country, and inevitably SMEs would be impacted by that.
From a public accounting perspective, the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accounting chief executive Rob Whiteman said his organisation would not take sides in a referendum on EU membership but rather point out what the arguments on either side are.