Most UK businesses have no interest in or understanding of the government’s flagship “Brexit freedoms” plan to scrap EU regulations, according to a survey of bosses.

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) said almost three-quarters of company directors were either unaware of the government plans or did not know the details. Across all business areas, about half in the survey of almost 1,000 firms said deregulation was either a low priority or not a priority at all.

William Bain, the head of trade policy at the BCC, which represents thousands of firms of all sizes across the country, said: “Businesses did not ask for this bill, and as our survey highlights, they are not clamouring for a bonfire of regulations for the sake of it.

“They don’t want to see divergence from EU regulations which makes it more difficult, costly or impossible to export their goods and services.”

Rishi Sunak’s government is under growing pressure from business leaders, unions and political critics to withdraw the EU retained law bill, commonly referred to as the Brexit freedoms bill.

The plan to purge a wide range of EU laws from the British statute book was a key policy reform introduced under Liz Truss’s short-lived premiership, promoted by her business secretary, Jacob Rees-Mogg.

The BCC said as few as 4% of businesses comprehensively understood the Brexit freedoms bill and its potential impact on them. When asked which regulations they would keep, amend, or remove completely, more than half (58%) said they had no preference.

In the survey, first reported by the New Statesman, firms were also asked whether deregulation was a priority for them across the business areas of employment, health and safety, environment, planning and product safety regulations.

The results stand in stark contrast to comments made by senior government figures suggesting that widespread regulatory changes could help UK businesses and reboot the British economy.

The chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, argued last week that “Brexit freedoms” could help pave the way for growth in key sectors. Comparing the plans to Nigel Lawson’s 1986 “big bang” City reforms, he told MPs on the Treasury committee: “We have a huge Brexit opportunity to set our own regulations.

“You can set out long-term plans for growth industries like life sciences, technology and green industries, which attracts people to come to the UK, because we are using our Brexit freedoms to allow things to happen with forward-looking regulatory structures that you cannot do in other countries.”

Business groups have previously experienced tensions between the views of their members and leadership on Brexit. Ahead of the 2016 referendum, the BCC’s then director general, John Longworth, was suspended after suggesting Britain would be better off outside the EU despite two-thirds of members backing remain. Meanwhile, Lord Bamford, the chair of JCB, withdrew his firm’s membership of the CBI over the lobby group’s anti-Brexit stance.

The BCC said there was little appetite among firms for UK rules to diverge significantly from EU regulations, warning that too many differences would add to company costs at a time when businesses were already struggling with soaring inflation and other barriers to trade with the EU.

The UK copied over EU laws to smooth the formal exit from the EU on 31 January 2020. Under the bill, several thousand EU laws would automatically expire at the end of 2023 unless they had already been reviewed, amended, renewed or scrapped.

The BCC urged ministers to extend the deadline for the bill to the end of 2026 to give more time for consultation with firms.

William Bain said: “Most importantly, businesses and government need to focus on the pressing issues we are facing right now. With a difficult 12 months ahead, we can’t afford to take away any resources that businesses need to keep afloat over the coming year.”

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