Britain's business leaders are sceptical about the EU Constitution, with half intending to vote 'no' in any referendum on the issue and almost all concerned that the Constitution will mean yet more bureaucracy and red tape.
A survey by the Institute of Directors (IoD) members found that only 29 per cent of its members are prepared to sign up to the Constitution with 49 per cent opposed to it and 20 per cent undecided.
The survey has been released to coincide with the imminent second reading in the Commons of the European Union Bill, which paves the way for adoption of the EU Constitutional Treaty, subject to a referendum.
But encouragingly for both sides of the debate many business leaders remain ready to be swayed one way or the other.
Just 25 per cent said their voting intention was firmly fixed. Some 43 per cent were “fairly sure, but could be influenced” and 32 per cent were “waiting to find out the arguments for and against”.
"The Government faces a major challenge if it is to convince businesses they would be better off with an EU Constitution," said Miles Templeman, Director General of the IoD. "However, business leaders remain ready to hear the case from both sides.”
Red tape from Brussels seems to be a major reason for business scepticism, the IoD said. An overwhelming 86 per cent of businesses surveyed expected regulation to increase under the new Constitution. Only three per cent thought it would decline.
“Businesses are already being strangled by red tape, and there is a very real fear out there that the EU Constitution will tie them up further still. The Barroso Commission must turn its good intentions on enterprise into reality,” Miles Templeman said.
Another obstacle in the path of a positive referendum vote is a widespread lack of knowledge, the survey reveals.
Only 25 per cent of those questioned said they were very, or moderately, well informed about the EU Constitution. Almost a quarter admitted to knowing nothing at all.
According to Miles Templeman, one thing that both sides of the debate need to focus on is raising awareness of the issues at stake.
"The decision to accept or reject the EU Constitution will be of great historical importance. An informed and rigorous debate needs to begin now, well in advance of a referendum,” he said.