EU referendum one year on: SMEs divided on chance of Brexit success

Twenty two per cent of SME owners say initial response to Brexit has been positive for their business; 18 per cent have experienced a negative reaction to the EU referendum.

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 per cent) than negative (18 per cent) 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, seven per cent say they would now vote leave. By contrast, only three per cent 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 per cent) SME owners say they were optimistic that Brexit would ultimately be a success, narrowly more than those who were pessimistic about its chances (36 per cent). Around a quarter (26 per cent) believe 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 per cent).

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 per cent), although Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is not far behind (23 per cent).

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

Adam Harper, director of strategy and professional standards, AAT, says, ‘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.’

Further reading on Brexit

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