More than half of Northern Ireland’s senior businessmen and women have said the outcome of the Prime Minister’s renegotiated EU deal is unlikely to change how they will vote.
The survey from the British Chambers of Commerce/Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NI Chamber) found that 60% were already decided on their view.
The results come on the eve of crunch Brussels talks expected to result in a deal. Despite a large majority of Northern Ireland firms (89%) saying they are following the debate, the findings demonstrate that the renegotiation process is having little effect on business opinion. It is the referendum itself that is important, rather than any package of reforms.
When it comes to how individual businesspeople in Northern Ireland will vote in a forthcoming referendum, 81% would vote to remain and 11% would vote to leave. This is compared to the rest of the UK where 60% would vote to remain and 30% would vote to leave.
Over two fifths (84%) of Northern Ireland businesses also say that there has been no impact on businesses sales and orders as of yet due to the uncertainty of Britain’s future within the EU.
“The findings suggest that the renegotiation is having little impact on day-to-day business — or the vote of the business community, since many made up their minds before knowing the outcome of negotiations, effectively discounting them as irrelevant,” said Northern Ireland Chamber president Stephen McCully.
“For businesspeople this is a question of in or out.”
Those “firmly wedded” to the EU have said that Brexit will leave the province stranded outside the EU, and coping with the re-emergence of a land border with the Republic of Ireland, he said.
“ We are told that trade with the EU nations will be difficult, even prohibitive, that our farmers will suffer huge financial losses with the withdrawal of EU farm subsidies.
“On the other side of the argument there are claims that the amount of money the UK will save in EU contributions will yield a financial bonanza for all regions, including Northern Ireland. £3 billion is a figure which has been flagged up already.
“It is not only helpful for individuals, businesses and indeed business representative bodies to ensure they are fully informed of such major issues, there is actually a responsibility on us to seek out the full facts and potential scenarios.”