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Almost half of SMEs still figuring out future plans as Brexit deadline looms

  • 45 per cent of business owners still figuring out scenario plans relating to Brexit
  • A quarter of respondents thought Government guidance was totally unclear
  • One in three businesses are rethinking their EU export plans

London, 15 December 2020 – Small business owners still feel woefully unprepared for Brexit, just weeks shy of the transition period deadline, according to a survey conducted by GS1 UK.

Despite four and a half years having passed since the referendum, and £8.1bn of Government preparedness spending, Brexit transition: thoughts of an SME nation reveals that protracted negotiations have left just 11 per cent of SME owners feeling “very well prepared” for the new regime.

Meanwhile, just shy of a quarter (23 per cent) consider themselves “somewhat unprepared” and an alarming 17 per cent regard themselves as “not at all prepared”.

SME opinion on the government’s guidance and support on how to deal with EU trade after the transition period ends was critical, with two-fifths describing it as “somewhat unclear” and an additional quarter of those polled going further still and rating it as “not clear at all”.

Just 28 per cent of businesses had undertaken any scenario planning with regards to Brexit, with 27 per cent admitting to carrying out no modelling at all and 45 per cent saying they were still figuring things out.

More than half (55 per cent) of SMEs surveyed said Brexit had taken time away from other business priorities, an unwanted distraction while dealing with a global pandemic that has caused the worst annual economic performance in three centuries.

A third of those polled said they had changed plans to export to the EU based on the uncertainty of ongoing negotiations. Given that almost half (46 per cent) of UK goods were exported to the EU prior to the pandemic, significant withdrawals from the export market could widen the black hole in UK finances caused by the coronavirus crisis.

COVID-19 has made business owners more wary of Brexit too. When polled in May, two in every five business owners were concerned about Brexit in light of the pandemic, but seven months later with no end to economic hardship in sight, that percentage has risen to half.

Anne Godfrey, CEO of GS1 UK, said: “This report shows us a very concerned small-business nation – one that feels unprepared and frustrated with a government that has had four and a half years to make ready for this eventuality.

“Planning for Brexit would have been a momentous enough undertaking in isolation, but adding a global pandemic into the mix has put SMEs under serious pressure. Despite wider uncertainty for the British business community, SMEs can be reassured that amid the upheaval, their identifiers will work as seamlessly as before.”

GS1 UK’s survey report, Brexit transition: thoughts of an SME nation, provides an analysis of the survey results, as well as an end-of-transition prep list for worried SMEs that includes recommendations such as considering warehousing and stockpiling, hedging on currency, determining the responsibility of declarations and ensuring data protection compliance is up to scratch.

Business owners can keep up to speed with transition changes, Brexit news and advice from government and industry at GS1 UK’s Brexit hub.

- ENDS -

Notes to editors

For more information / requests for interviews, please contact

- Instinctif Partners:

- Sarah Atkins, chief marketing officer: or 07990 770 955.

About GS1 UK

GS1 UK is just one of 115 neutral and independent GS1 organisations operating worldwide. From product barcodes to patient wristbands, GS1 standards have been transforming the way we work and live for more than 40 years.

Whether online, in store or in a hospital, the common language of GS1 global standards is helping our community of more than 45,000 organisations across Britain to uniquely identify, describe and track anything, creating greater trust in data for everyone.