Article 50: uncertainty the order of the day for UK SMEs

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Only 1 in 4 SME owners in the UK feel that they have a clear understanding of what Article 50 is and what it means for their business, according to results obtained from the Close Brothers Business Barometer, a quarterly survey that questions over 900 UK SME owners and senior management across a range of sectors and regions.

“Among smaller companies (those with a turnover less than £500k) the lack of understanding is even acuter,” said Neil Davies, CEO, Close Brothers Asset Finance and Leasing. “In that category of respondents the figure falls to only 19%, which is indicative of how little people really know about Article 50 and its potential impact.”

Business impact

Over half (52%) of businesses were ‘unsure’ whether the triggering of Article 50 would have any measurable effect on their business; 21% felt it would while the remaining 27% said ‘no’.

“In the absence of any certainty, business owners are left with no choice but to adopt a ‘wait and see’ approach,” said Neil. “In common with a year ago when the Brexit outcome was announced, companies are getting on with their day-to-day activities and hoping for the best outcome.”

Break-up of the UK

A large minority of business owners – 40% – are of the opinion that the triggering of Article 50 will lead to the break-up of the UK, with Scotland (53%) and the Republic of Ireland (61%) being the most convinced.

“While these results are speculation only, it speaks to the uncertainty about the future of the UK in its current form,” said Neil. “This brings with it concerns about the impact to their business, which in turn can lead to caution when making investment and growth decisions, with many deferring until there is more certainty in the market. For now, though, it is something we are all going to have to live with.”


  Yes No
The Republic of Ireland 61% 40%
Scotland 53% 47%
Wales 46% 54%
Greater London 42% 58%
West Midlands 40% 60%
Yorkshire/Humberside 39% 61%
East Midlands 39% 61%
East Anglia 38% 62%
SW England 35% 65%
NE England 34% 66%
SE England 33% 67%
Northern Ireland 33% 67%
NW England 25% 75%


Clarity over Europe?

Businesses were split down the middle when asked ‘do you think triggering Article 50 will bring more or less clarity to our relationship with the EU?’, with 49% answering ‘more’ and 51% saying ‘yes’.

“For many UK businesses, Europe is a key market, and will continue to be so regardless of the outcome of the Brexit negotiations,” continued Neil. “Triggering Article 50 on its own does not seem to have brought the clarity many were hoping for.”

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from a GMI survey conducted in April 2016. The survey canvassed the opinion of 900 SME owners across the UK and across several industries on a range of issues affecting their businesses.


About Close Brothers Asset Finance

Close Brothers Asset Finance offers a range of flexible funding options including hire purchase, leasing and refinancing.


Close Brothers Asset Finance is a member of the Close Brothers Group.


Close Brothers is a leading UK merchant banking group providing lending, deposit taking, wealth management services, and securities trading. We employ 2,900 people, principally in the UK. Close Brothers Group plc is listed on the London Stock Exchange and is a member of the FTSE 250.