Brexit: the end of the beginning

by Kelly Beaver

Having paralysed parliament for three years and seen off two Prime Ministers, the General Election in December 2019 was going to resolve Brexit and was meant to be the beginning of the end. Then along came COVID-19 at the start of 2020 and our impending departure from the world’s largest trading bloc paled into insignificance.

By September, however, concern about Brexit and the EU rose sharply, returning to near General Election levels, second only to the pandemic. As the end of the transition period approached, the proportion of the public who mention Brexit as a big issue fell slightly in October, but it remained almost twice the level of concern recorded in April this year (26%).

As we near the end of the transition period, concern about Brexit is rising

What do you see as the most/other important issues facing Britain today? Top mentions %

April 2020 data onwards is collected by telephone; previous months are face-to-face in home

Ipsos MORI Issues Index

c.1,000 British adults age 18+ each month

Sign saying 'Ask us again' regarding Brexit

What happens next? As we go to press, we wait with bated breath for whatever the deal on fish will be (although more people are employed in market research in Britain than in fishing, our industry is rather less emotive!)

Business remains worried: more than half (52%) of the Captains of Industry (over 100 of the FTSE 500 business leaders) picked Brexit uncertainty as one of the most important issues facing Britain today, second only to the impact of COVID-19.

Brexit uncertainty is the second biggest issue after the impact of coronavirus for UK business leaders

What do you see as the most important issues facing Britain today?

Top mentioned

Ipsos MORI Captains of Industry

102 British business leaders, interviewed Feb – July 2020

Brexit is going to happen, there’s no going back; but what do people want from it? The majority of Britons, including majorities of those who voted Leave and Remain in 2016, believe that it’s important that Britain maintain a close relationship with the EU. However, optimism about this future close relationship has fallen and political divides remain.

The public’s primary concern is a trade deal with the EU. However, many Leavers want to work with the EU to reduce illegal immigration into Britain, (something only 11% of Remainers think is important), despite national concern about immigration falling to the lowest point this century in 2020.

The priority for business leaders is the free movement of goods, followed by free movement of people. And many have warned that the disruption already being felt by the pandemic will only be exacerbated by a no-deal Brexit.

The priority for business leaders is the free movement of goods

Business leaders expect that negotiations on trade will be incomplete and will need to continue beyond the transition period

What do you think is the most likely outcome at the end of the Brexit transition period?

Ipsos MORI Captains of Industry

102 British business leaders, interviewed February – July 2020

British and EU currency depicting trade negotiations

With the Brexit negotiations reaching a peak as we approach the end of the transition period, almost everyone wants to have a very good relationship with the EU, and while many would like to strike a trade deal, there’s disagreement between Leavers and Remainers about the most important priority for our post-Brexit relationship. With almost half of Britons now believing we’re not likely to get a close relationship after Brexit and more than half of businesses believing that the most likely outcome from a deal is that it covers some sectors but not all, maybe this isn’t the end of Brexit after all, but just the end of the beginning…

Kelly Beaver

Kelly Beaver

Managing Director, Public Affairs