It has been one of the most contentious political issues of a generation. The question of whether or not the UK should leave the EU has divided opinion in communities, in families and even between spouses. Meanwhile, the Brexit and Bremain campaigns fought on each side were criticised for being deceitful and lackluster respectively. Now, however, with the votes cast and the nation waiting for Teresa May to trigger Article 50 and make Brexit a reality, we sent a survey to our members to gauge their response to the result.
The IOEE’s membership is comprised primarily of people running businesses (mainly owner / managers) and people who deliver business support services. Of those responding to our Brexit survey, some 55% were in business, and around 30% were business support professionals, with the remaining categorising themselves as students or ‘other’. The majority of those surveyed were employers – over 50% of them employed 1-5 individuals.
Overwhelmingly, the response to the Brexit result among IOEE members has not been a positive one. We asked them ‘Do you foresee a risk to UK small businesses as a result of leaving the European Union?’ 64% said yes to this question, 32% said no, and 4% were unsure. Next, we asked respondees to be more specific about the ways they believed Brexit would affect small business, setting out a number of key areas and asking them whether or not these would be impacted. Over 40% of those who responded said that they believed business support, importing and exporting would be affected by Brexit. However, it was the devaluation of the pound (88%), investment (78%) and shortage of skills (61%) that most people believed would be affected by Brexit in coming months. We also gave respondees the opportunity to tell us in their own words the ways that they believe Brexit will impact the UK’s small businesses. The majority of the answers were negative. One person said: “Simply, [it will impact] the ease of doing business in Europe.” Another made the following contribution: “Yet more change in government policy, which reduces confidence and makes business support and funding scarcer and harder to find.”
In the interests of fair reporting, we asked those surveyed whether they expected any better opportunities to arise as a result of Brexit. Specifically, we asked whether they believed there’d be less red tape (32% said yes), and whether global exporting opportunities would improve (only 21% said yes). In response to this question, one person wrote: “We have always been able to export globally, in fact membership of the EU gave us access to preferential trade agreements with over 50 countries. Leaving the EU may also result in more regulations as far as trading with the remaining member states is concerned.”
In conclusion, the IOEE members who participated largely feel very negative about the Brexit decision, which is something reflected by the action they intend to take as a result of the leave decision. While only 35% said that they did intend to take action, the considerations that have led to their action plans have largely been negative. One person said: “[I have] taken [my] company pension early – [I’m] now free to leave the UK chaos if I wish.”
Another said: “[The plan is] damage limitation, and focusing more on Europe than on the UK because of Britain’s longstanding myopic and opportunistic energy and innovation policies and funding.” On a more positive note, another said: “[I am] working on building more business contacts in the EU.”
Right now, the UK remains in a kind of limbo as we await the triggering of Article 50, which will no doubt in turn prompt a flurry of complex legal and trade negotiations between the UK and remaining European Union member states. The eventual impact on the UK’s economic position, business performance and employment figures can’t be accurately foreseen as of yet, however, for IOEE members at least, the outlook is not perceived positively.