So, FTSE 100 company bosses have come out in favour of staying in the EU – even if, as Ed West notes, the 198 signatories in a letter to the Times represent only 36 companies. I wonder if anyone dropped out at the last moment to reduce the tally below the figure of 200.
Of course big business supports the EU. It always has and always will. But who cares? What matters is what smaller, wealth-creating and job-creating businesses think. And they are much more Eurosceptic. A YouGov poll published in January revealed the huge divide between big business and the rest of the private sector on the issue. Out of 501 leaders of small and medium enterprises polled only 47 per cent favoured continued membership, with 42 per cent favouring withdrawal. This is very close to the level of the general public, who at the time were balanced 41 in favour of staying to 42 per cent leaving. YouGov also interviewed a small number of big business leaders – 11 from the FTSE 100, three from the FTSE 250 and two from large private companies – and found all but one in favour of remaining in the EU.
Big business loves the EU because it is the font of regulations which help to suppress smaller competitors. When the EU introduces a new licensing scheme, a new set of product description regulations or employments laws it makes life a little more difficult for big business. But it makes life a hell of lot more difficult for small businesses, who have fewer lawyers and officers on hand to grapple with the consequences. Even better still, the backdoor method by which the European Commission dreams up regulations favours big business as it can afford the lobbying resources to steer regulations in its direction. By the time small businesses find out what is going on it is often too late.
It matters what small businesses think, because they are the ones which are creating the jobs and expanding the economy the fastest. In 2014, one in three new jobs in the economy were created by just 22,000 high growth small businesses. What is big business doing for the economy, by contrast? Awarding itself huge pay rises at the same time as destroying shareholder value. The fact that so many underperforming corporate fat cats are so firmly in the ‘remain’ camp isn’t an argument for staying in; it is a symptom of what is wrong with the EU.