Temporary Brexit? A third of SME Business owners believe the UK will re-apply to the EU in the future

Research from FreeAgent suggests that a third (30%) of SME business owners believe that the UK will apply to rejoin the EU in the future. In addition:

  • Nearly half (47%) of 18-34-year-old SME business owners believe the UK will re-apply to join the European Union.
  • Male business owners are most likely to be of the opinion that the UK will not apply to rejoin the EU.

With nearly half (47%) of SME owners aged 18-34 believing the UK will re-apply to rejoin the European Union, younger entrepreneurs are twice more likely to hold this opinion than business owners aged 55 and over (23%). The younger age group are also significantly more likely to say that they hope the UK wil re-apply to the EU in the future, with nearly 2 in 5 respondents in the 18-34 year-old group in favour of rejoining  (38%), compared to 23% of 35-54-year-olds and 22% of business owners aged 55+.

Meanwhile, 35% of respondents said they believe the UK will never re-apply to the EU and 16% said they think the UK will apply to join the Single Market and or Customs Union in the future.

The findings of the research indicated a gender divide among respondents, with 55% of male business owners of the opinion that the UK will not apply to rejoin the EU, compared to 44% of their female counterparts.

The current picture for UK SMEs

Despite the challenges of the last 18 months, including the impact of COVID-19 and Brexit, the majority (55%) of SME business owners - including 76% of respondents aged 55 and over and 72% of sole traders - indicated that they’re not worried about the future of their business. 67% of respondents who gave this answer said it was because they deemed their business to be “stable”.

Meanwhile, a fifth (22%) of all SMEs surveyed reported that they are going through a period of growth. This figure doubles for 18-24 year olds (44%). Similarly, a fifth of all SMEs surveyed (19%) said that the Covid-19 pandemic has opened up opportunities for their business.

However, almost half (46%) of those questioned expressed concerns about the future of their business. Unsurprisingly, the Covid-19 pandemic emerged as the main cause for this concern for SMEs and of those, 62% said that their business had suffered as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. 57% also said that they are worried about the long-term negative impact(s) of the pandemic.

Roan Lavery,  CEO and co-founder of FreeAgent said, “Although it’s been nearly two years since the UK left the European Union - and eight months after the transition period ended - Brexit remains a hugely divisive issue for the SME sector. With a third of small business owners predicting that the UK will eventually re-apply to join the European Union, and a further 1 in 6 believing it will apply to join the Single Market or Customs Union, it seems that many are pessimistic about how Brexit is progressing and expect to see a dramatic U-turn at some point in the future.

“What is heartening to see is that, despite the combined impact of Covid-19 and Brexit on the SME sector, a clear majority of people say that their business is currently ‘stable’ and they are not worried about the future. This shows just how resilient small businesses have been in the most challenging of times, which is a testament to their adaptability and tenacity.

“However, it is important that we are not complacent about these survey findings. The SME sector comprises at least 95% of all businesses in the UK and is vitally important for the wider economy, but many businesses are still in desperate need of support. As we enter into a post-Covid and Brexit world filled with new challenges, the government should make it a top priority to help these businesses thrive.”

The research was conducted by FreeAgent on 400 small business owners in the UK in September 2021.

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