EU referendum one year on: SME owners are divided on chances of Brexit success

image: big ben, eu and uk flags
Thursday 22 June 2017 - 11:15
  • 22 per cent of SME owners say initial response to Brexit has been positive for their business; 18 per cent have experienced a negative reaction
  • 40 per cent say they are optimistic that Brexit will ultimately be a success; 36 per cent are pessimistic
  • 28 per cent of SME owners feel no current leading political figure will act in their business’ interests

With the one year anniversary of Britain’s historic decision to leave the EU upon us this week, owners of small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) in the UK have shared their views on the current and future impact of Brexit on their business, in new research published by AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians).

Small business owners were slightly more positive (22%) than negative (18%) about the current impact of the referendum’s decision on their business – and there are a number of ‘re-Leavers’ – those who voted Remain but have now changed their minds towards Leave. Of those who voted to remain, 7% say they would now vote leave. By contrast, only 3% of leave voters would now vote remain.

General reasons from those who were positive about Brexit for their small business included having increased optimism and confidence for the future, and the devaluation of the pound helping some owners for whom workers may be paid in other currencies. Conversely, the weakness of sterling was viewed as a cause for concern by other business owners, along with a reduction in the ability to recruit immigrants for labour.

Two in five (40%) SME owners said they were optimistic that Brexit would ultimately be a success, narrowly more than those who were pessimistic about its chances (36%). Around a quarter (26%) believed Brexit would ultimately have a positive impact on their business, about the same number as those that felt it would have a negative impact (24%). A further 26 per cent felt Brexit would have neither a positive or negative impact on their small business, while 18 per cent thought it would have no impact whatsoever.

Party politics

Following this month’s General Election, Prime Minister Theresa May is still viewed as the politician small business owners think will most likely act in the best interests of their business (26%), although Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is not far behind (23%).

Aside from the main two leaders, David Davis (7%) and returning Liberal Democrat MP Vince Cable (5%) were seen to be the most supportive of small businesses, although nearly a third (28%) of SME owners felt no current leading political figure would act in their business’ interests.

Adam Harper, Director of Strategy and Professional Standards, AAT, said:

“Brexit clearly remains a divisive issue throughout the UK, with small business owners sharing with us how they view the upcoming EU withdrawal as both an opportunity and a concern, in almost equal measure.

With talks over our exit strategy now underway, we can only hope that Britain’s future business successes with our partners inside and outside of the European Union are at the forefront of our political leaders’ minds. Issues including our businesses’ ability to trade, the potential impact of new regulations and policies, and supply of skilled workers will all need to be strongly considered, while small businesses will need regular advice and support as to what Brexit will actually mean for their company.”

Opinium Research conducted an online survey with 800 owners of UK SMEs between Monday 12 and Friday 16 June 2017.

47 per cent of respondents told the survey they voted to Leave the EU, while 47 per cent voted to Remain in the EU, in the referendum held on Thursday 23 June 2016. Seven per cent did not vote.