What do British business leaders really think of Brexit?

The Captains of Industry study has run for 38 consecutive years, yet there has rarely been an issue as thorny as Brexit going on in the background. So, what do the most successful business leaders in the country really think is going to happen?

The author(s)

  • Katherine Shipton Ipsos Loyalty, UK
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The reaction to the news that front-running ‘Brexiter’ James Dyson is moving his HQ operations to Singapore may just be the perfect symbol of the confusion and fatigue of British business (and, in fact, public) sentiment towards Brexit as we trudge on through 2019.

Today, mention of Brexit to business leaders, colleagues and friends alike is universally met with an eye roll. Still, Ipsos MORI's latest 'Captains of Industry' poll shows that half (50%) of the public say that they would support a delay to Britain’s exit from the EU. However, the byline of our findings from this year’s Captains of Industry study could read: sod it, let’s just get on with it.

Most pressing however, must be the Bank of England’s warning of a recession as bad as the Financial Crash of 2008 if we crash out without a deal. It’s unsurprising then that more than three-quarters of business leaders think leaving the EU with no deal will be bad for their business. The weight of the problem at hand has become unavoidable.

Brexit means, err…

Britain’s largest businesses have little confidence in the Government’s ability to manage Brexit, and are expecting their businesses to be adversely affected by it. As with the public, two-thirds say that they lack confidence in the ability of this Conservative Government to negotiate the best deal possible for UK businesses with the EU. For a party that is traditionally in favour with big business, Dyson’s move and his fellow big-business contemporaries’ gloomy outlook about the economy must come as quite a shock.

Three-quarters of the ‘Captains’ interviewed expect the general economic condition of the country to decline over the next 12 months. This is up from two-thirds last year and marks the third successive year of increased pessimism over the economy.

Reassuring for Theresa May, however, must be the same business leaders’ general revulsion to Jeremy Corbyn. The overwhelming consensus is that the current Government’s policies are preferable to those of Labour. 94% of business leaders do not believe that, in the long term, Labour’s policies would improve the state of the British economy. It seems that, while Mrs May might not be popular, the alternative remains less attractive to big business. 

Download the standout findings from the 2018 Captains of Industry study here (PDF)

Good things come to those who wait?

Like the general public, business leaders are split on their view of Brexit – just over half of our Captains still see the decision to leave the EU as a significant risk to their company. However, the unifying feeling between the Brexit and remain camps is that of waning patience with the government’s decision-making. Business leaders want a conclusion because Brexit dominates commercial concerns. Indeed, 95% see the resolution of uncertainty around Brexit as the most important issue facing Britain today.

Brexiters, however, will take heart from the fact that 92% of business leaders are confident that their company can adapt to the consequences of Brexit. Despite pessimism about the economy as a whole, half expect business for their own company to improve over the next 12 months. While this is a strong, bold and confident message, of course they’d say that.

To my mind, it’s more worrying that there are any ready to admit they aren’t confident they can adapt at this stage in proceedings.

What’s that coming over the hill?

Overall, looking at both business and the public’s economic forecasts for the next year, one cannot help but have dampened expectations of much growth (and, dare I say it, recession on the horizon) but as we know, surprises can and do happen. Business leaders have unwavering confidence in their own abilities to weather the storm, although they feel distinctly cheated by the hand that has been dealt by the Government. But then again, who doesn’t?

And what about Dyson? Named the most impressive business person in the country by his peers before his decision to shift his operation offshore, he may just have knocked himself off the podium spot, for business leaders and the public alike.


Download the standout findings from the 2018 Captains of Industry study here (PDF)

The author(s)

  • Katherine Shipton Ipsos Loyalty, UK