The recent flurry of foreign takeovers of UK companies has triggered intense concern among the British public, with more than two thirds of people saying it is now “too easy” for overseas predators to acquire businesses here.

The new poll by Harris Interactive, in association with the Financial Times, was conducted at the beginning of this month, as Ferrovial of Spain was clinching its consortium bid for BAA, the British airports group – the latest in a spate of foreign takeovers. It shows some 68 per cent of Britons are worried about the ease with which foreign companies acquire UK assets.

The poll, in which 5,000 Europeans were asked questions on economic and political issues, suggests public concern about foreign takeovers of national companies is much higher in the UK, which is more open to cross-border bids, than in the four other west European countries surveyed.

In Germany, 57 per cent of people said it was “too easy” for foreign companies to buy their national businesses. France and Italy recorded figures of 52 per cent and 50 per cent respectively.

The Harris poll, conducted between June 6 and 9, suggests Britons may react badly if Gazprom, the Russian oil and gas group, succeeds in its stated ambition to acquire Centrica.

The poll provides some relief for Tony Blair’s government by showing Britons are far more relaxed than their west European counterparts about the prospect of new nuclear power stations being built at home.

As Mr Blair finalises a review of energy to be published next month, some 48 per cent of Britons said they favoured building nuclear power stations while 32 per cent opposed it. Opposition to nuclear power here is the lowest among nations polled, with the exception of Italy, which also registered 32 per cent opposition. In Spain and Germany, the proportion of people opposed to new nuclear stations was 58 per cent and 57 per cent respectively. In France it was 40 per cent.

A fact Labour may need to bear in mind as it prepares its energy review is that many more women are opposed to nuclear power than men. Only 31 per cent of British women backed building new nuclear power stations against 65 per cent of men. This gender divide is reflected across the EU.

Europeans consider the US a greater threat to global stability than Iran or China, the poll says.

The survey also shows the British are more pessimistic about the broad direction their country is going in than any other people polled except the French. Only 21 per cent of Britons said things in the UK were going in “the right direction” while 66 per cent said they were on “the wrong track.”

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