A survey of 1,200 business leaders from the across the UK, conducted in a week of parliamentary pandemonium, showed little faith that politicians could put aside their differences and come up with a Brexit withdrawal agreement that would bring the country together. When asked about preferences for next steps after the Government’s deal was rebuffed by MPs
- Nearly 80% of company directors rejected the option of no deal. This tallies with previous IoD polling from November which showed two-thirds (66%) of members thought no deal would be negative for their business.
- There was no majority for a single course, with 45% of members opting for some form of referendum to break the impasse, while 29% would prefer that the Withdrawal Agreement could be changed so that it could secure parliamentary support. When asked in November, assuming the UK does leave the EU in March as the law currently states, 72% said having a withdrawal agreement in place was important to business.
- A General Election was the least favoured potential next step, only chosen by 2% of business leaders.
There was evidence in the survey that IoD members felt the rejection of the withdrawal deal at the first time of asking had made no deal more likely. Only a fifth business leaders surveyed said they had already activated contingency plans, while a further 18% have plans waiting to be implemented. Of all those who said they would be planning for Brexit, over half (54%) said that they were more likely to activate those plans in the near future as a result of the vote.
Stephen Martin, Director General of the Institute of Directors, said:
“At this moment of national crisis, the ability to put what really matters first seems to have abandoned us. It feels like we are being drawn involuntarily towards no deal like a moth to a flame, knowing we will be burnt but seemingly unable to stop it. Businesses are deeply frustrated our political leaders seem intent on wasting the little time remaining before 29 March trying to fulfil political objectives, rather than coming together to find a way forward.
“As a result, many business leaders now seem willing to contemplate other solutions to break the impasse, including a referendum. This route is fraught with uncertainty of its own, and the fact that some business leaders are prepared to consider it reflects poorly on the efforts of Parliament to bring the country together.
“The reason that a large majority of business leaders oppose no deal in a little over two months is simply that it’s an unnecessary self-inflicted wound. Companies would stand a better chance of being ready for a different relationship with the EU if day one arrangements and processes were already known to businesses, and they had time to adjust. Unfortunately that is not the case, and there is little time left to overhaul their own operating procedures. What they can’t handle is to have everything thrown up in the air in a matter of a few weeks and be told to get on with it.
“Business is not the only voice that should get a hearing, but companies don’t stand apart from society, they are an integral part of it. What happens over the next few weeks will affect supply chains, logistics and investment decisions but these aren’t abstract concepts – they have an impact on real businesses, large and small, real jobs, real people. The solution is far from clear, there is disagreement even among businesses on the way forward. The only place an alternative to no deal on 29 March can be found is Parliament. The country is watching.”