The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) says 80 per cent of its members want Britain to stay in the EU.
The business organisation says it will make the economic case for remaining in the union, but will stop short of joining forces with pro-EU campaign groups ahead of the in/out referendum on 23 June.
Leave campaigners have bitterly criticised the CBI in the past, accusing it of carrying out “dodgy” polling and being a mouthpiece for Brussels.
What does British business really think about the EU?
The CBI has published another poll showing overwhelming support among its members for Britain to stay put.
Some 80 per cent of businesses said staying in the EU would be in their best interests, with only 5 per cent backing a Leave vote and 15 per cent unsure.
Support for the EU was strongest in London, and weakest in the Midlands and the East of England. Bigger companies, and those with greater turnover, were more likely to be pro-EU.
Is this a ‘dodgy’ poll?
Matthew Elliott, chief executive of Vote Leave, said: “Dodgy polls from the CBI carry little weight after their long and regrettable history of getting it wrong on the EU.”
In November last year, Vote Leave wrote to the British Polling Council (BPC) complaining about the way YouGov had carried out a similar poll for the CBI.
Amusingly, Nick Moon from the BPC accidentally hit “reply all” on an email that suggested the poll looked “pretty dodgy” at first glance.
That wasn’t the considered view of the BPC: it later confined its criticism to saying that YouGov should have published more details of the sampling procedures it used to carry out the poll.
The suggestion from Vote Leave was that the CBI had “skewed” earlier polls by selecting in advance the members who would be surveyed, in order to give a pro-EU result.
The poll was also unweighted, meaning it favoured the views of bigger businesses, according to critics.
The new survey published today has been carried out by another company, ComRes, which has published all the data tables here.
ComRes says it approached all the CBI’s members and received 773 replies. It says it weighted the data to make it representative of the total CBI membership by class, region and size of organisation.
Of course this doesn’t mean the survey is representative of all businesses across the UK.
What about other business organisations?
The CBI is often portrayed as a lobby group for the FTSE 100 big hitters, but organisations with different membership profiles also show overall support for a Remain vote in June, though the results are more nuanced.
A snap poll carried out by the Institute of Directors immediately after David Cameron announced his reform deal in February showed that 60 per cent of 672 members would vote to stay, 31 per cent would leave and 9 per cent didn’t know.
The latest British Chambers of Commerce survey of more than 2,000 senior businesspeople got a very similar result: 60/30/9 in favour of remaining in the EU.
Again, it makes a difference how big the company is. But even among the smallest businesses, who employ fewer than 10 people, it was 54 per cent stay, 34 per cent leave, 11 per cent unsure.
The last time the Federation of Small Businesses asked the in-or-out question was September last year. The polling (of more than 6,000 respondents) was much closer: 47 per cent would vote to remain, against 41 per cent would leave and 11 per cent unsure.
All of this suggests that there is a broad spectrum of opinion in the business world, often linked to company size, but a clear majority overall for staying in the EU.
It remains to be seen how much impact business opinion will have on the wider electorate.
Of the four business organisations we have looked at, three are staying neutral in the referendum campaign. The CBI, while promising to make what it says is the economic case for staying in the EU, has decided not to align itself with any campaign group.
At time of writing, wider polling remains on a knife-edge, with NatCen’s “poll of polls” (an average of the last six surveys) putting Remain just one point ahead on 51 per cent, versus 49 per cent for leave.