Belfast Telegraph

Almost half of small firms in NI undecided on question of Brexit

By John Mulgrew

Almost half of small businesses in Northern Ireland could still be swayed to vote to leave the EU, a new poll has suggested.

Around 43% of firms say they are undecided over whether they will vote to stay or leave, according to the Federation of Small Businesses.

And it is issues around EU governance, free movement and the overall cost of membership which are the biggest concerns to FSB members.

More than half of those quizzed said they didn't feel properly informed about the EU referendum, according to FSB policy chairman for Northern Ireland Wilfred Mitchell.

"Our goal must be to ensure the small business voice is heard in the discussion, and that our members have all the information they need to make a decision which is right for them and their business," he said.

"This survey reveals that over half of small businesses do not feel informed about the EU referendum. This sends a very clear message that small businesses want the information deficit to be addressed by both official 'remain' and 'leave' campaigns once they are appointed by the Electoral Commission.

"The high response highlights that FSB members want to know the practical impact that remaining within or leaving the EU will have on their businesses.

"Over the coming months FSB will be at the forefront of this effort on behalf of our members, to get the information they need before they cast their vote."

The snap poll comes as research by the Economic and Social Research Institute suggested that any economic benefit from a low corporation tax rate in Northern Ireland would be "reversed" by a Brexit.

Meanwhile, David Gavaghan, chief executive of the CBI, said promoting the province would become tougher in the event of a Brexit.

"There is an issue with us in Northern Ireland. If we are within the EU, that's a much easier story to tell," he said.

"If we are outside, it will take time for that to work its way through.

"This is about a sustained campaign of repositioning Belfast in people's minds. The issue of the EU is a momentary moment.

"The point made by the Economic and Social Research Institute is that by reducing corporation tax to 12.5%, the probability of investment goes up by 80%.

"If we reduce our market access (by leaving the EU), it reduces our interest to investors by 80%."

A previous poll by the FSB showed a higher number of small businesses - around a third - were in favour of leaving the EU, than the bigger players.

That's significantly higher than the 19% of larger firms found to be in favour of Brexit in a survey by the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce.

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