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74% of British businesses say “barrier-free trade with the EU” more important than “restricting the free movement of people” in Brexit negotiations

  • Poll on Brexit priorities asks, “What should the government focus on delivering when negotiating with the EU?” 74% of British businesses say “barrier-free trade with the EU”; only 6% say “restricting the free movement of people”
  • 59% of British businesses are worried EU leaders will impose tariffs on UK trade as a price for leaving to the EU
  • Eight out of nine British businesses (87%) believe the Government needs to do more to explain the benefits of free trade to the public
  • GS1 UK releases an agenda for export for the government to boost exports – top demands include fixing transport infrastructure and working to cut foreign customs duties

Just 6% of British businesses want the government to prioritise curbing immigration during the Brexit negotiations – while 74% want the government to focus on securing barrier-free trade with the EU.

The findings are included in “Defending cross-border trade”, a new report into the impact protectionism and Brexit will have on trade from GS1 UK, a not-for-profit organisation that licenses barcodes and aims to facilitate global trade. The findings are based on a survey of more than 1,000 British businesses, employing in excess of 100,000 people.

Theresa May has said that, while Britain will be outside the single market, it may be possible to preserve some of our access to it – even if that means Britain continuing to make financial contributions to the EU. When GS1 UK asked British business, 49% said they would prefer the UK to continue making financial contributions to the EU to preserve access for trade while just a third (33%) said they would prefer the money was spent on cutting taxes here in the UK. The report also found 59% of British businesses are worried EU leaders will impose tariffs on UK trade as a penalty for leaving to the EU. The poll suggested British businesses are not reassured by economic arguments suggesting Brexit will work because the EU needs it to – that tariffs cut both ways and that no matter what happens, Germany will still want to sell its cars to Britain, as will France its wine.

GS1 UK also polled business on their preference for a new trade deal: 76% viewed an EU/UK trade deal as more important than a US/UK deal.

Gary Lynch, CEO of GS1 UK says“In the Brexit negotiations, business is clear. Gaining access to the single market for British exports should take priority over rolling back the free movement of people. And if we have to pay for access to the EU, then so be it. British business tells us loud and clear that a trade deal with the EU is even more important to them than a deal with the US.”


GS1 UK’s research found that, in face of a growing wave of protectionism, the vast majority of British businesses (87%) believe the Government needs to do more to explain the benefits of free trade to the public. Business is overwhelmingly against protectionism with only 4% of UK firms supporting policies which restrain trade between countries. A majority of businesses (53%) agreed that trade helps lift people out of poverty – with only 14% saying that it doesn’t.

Gary Lynch says“For decades there has been a consensus that free trade brings more jobs, higher wages, and lower prices. That’s changing. Donald Trump's inauguration speech proclaimed a new age of American protectionism. He’s not alone. Marine Le Pen regularly attacked trade in the race for the French presidency. But British business bucks that populist trend. British business wants Theresa May to make the case for free trade – and stop protectionism spreading any further. For 40 years, GS1 has been to helping businesses trade freely across borders using a global language of business. But as an organisation we can see our mission and purpose being undermined by the resurgence of protectionism.”

GS1 UK’s agenda for export

GS1 UK surveyed British businesses to draw up an agenda for export – an overt course of action for the Government to follow to facilitate cross-border trade. The findings show:

  • 66% think the Government should tackle Britain’s transport infrastructure – including airport expansion – “as a matter of urgency”
  • 66% want the Government to work towards the elimination of customs duties
  • 62% want the Government to lower corporation tax to 12.5% - similar to Ireland
  • 59% of British businesses want to see better access to export financing for SMEs
  • 58% think the Government should introduce export tax credits
  • 55% want the Government to allow the free movement of labour from the EU to continue
  • 47% agree that the UK should slash EU red tape – only 25% disagree
  • 41% want the UK to go even further and adopt a non-interventionist model similar to that of Hong Kong – just 18% disagree

Gary Lynch says“We need to stop thinking about what export can do for our government – and start thinking about what our government can do for exports. British exporters are keen to put their faces into the wind of international competition and are confident of success despite the geopolitical challenges of protectionism and Brexit – providing the Government gives them the support they need by working towards the elimination of customs duties, lower corporation tax and improved access to export financing for SMEs. While trade deals will be secured over time. British businesses also tell us that investment in our transport infrastructure must happen now. We need will need to expand Heathrow quickly and step-up high-speed rail to keep up with international competition.”

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About GS1 UK

For further information or requests for interviews, please contact Tim Haidar: 020 7092 3584 /

GS1 UK is a community of over 31,000 members working in retail, foodservice, healthcare and more. GS1 UK is one of 112 independent, not-for-profit GS1 organisations operating across 150 countries worldwide. GS1 UK helps everyone involved in making, moving and trading goods, automate and standardise their supply chain processes using the common language of GS1 global standards.