Despite discontent, two-thirds of UK business leaders agree that Brexit is a ‘genuine opportunity to innovate and reshape relationships with the world’

May 30, 2016

London – June 29, 2016 – 62 per cent of UK business leaders say that the result of last week’s European Union (EU) Referendum is an opportunity for the United Kingdom to innovate and reshape its relationship with the world, according to a survey compiled by Harvey Nash, the global professional and executive recruitment group.

However, in the survey of almost five hundred board level directors, 74 per cent of UK business leaders say they are discontented with the result of last week’s Referendum, and 71 per cent voted to remain in the EU.

The survey reveals that whilst there is widespread dissatisfaction with the result, business leaders are beginning to consider and plan for the long-term implications. When asked about how Brexit will affect their business’ profit in five years, there was less negativity: one quarter (27 per cent) thought their profit would increase, one in three (29 per cent) thought it would be unaffected, and 43 per cent felt their profit would decrease. The majority of respondents thought the UK would be successful at negotiating a reasonable trade deal with the EU (57 per cent) and 71 per cent felt the same for trade deals with the rest of the world. Respondents were much less positive about two of the key promises of the Brexit campaign: 69 per cent believe immigration will not reduce and 74 per cent believe the money saved from EU membership fees will not be spent wisely.

Respondents are expecting a bumpy ride in the short term, with 64 per cent expecting a decrease in profits in the first year and 62 per cent expecting a decrease in the next one to five years. Nearly a quarter (24 per cent) are expecting a temporary recruitment freeze in some places, and a further 15 per cent expect this across all of the business.

The ‘Leave’ result came as a bit of a surprise to many businesses, with only 29 per cent having had a response in place, whether it be a communications plan or a business contingency plan.

Harvey Nash also asked whether Boris Johnson would make a good UK Prime Minister both before and after the EU Referendum. Before the EU Referendum, 72 per cent believed he wouldn’t, and this has increased to 84 per cent after the result has been announced.

Albert Ellis, CEO Harvey Nash Group said:

“Despite the Referendum outcome being a shock for many, what this survey shows is that business leaders are now beginning to plan for the future. It may be a somewhat bumpy ride in the short-term, however the results suggest a mood of “let’s get on with it”, and that some organisations are seeing potential opportunity. It can be tempting during these times for Boards to singularly focus on the problem, however as with all seismic economic events, the winners will be the opportunistic and innovative. Retaining and engaging with staff will be absolutely key.”

Respondents also offered advice to both their fellow business leaders and also the UK government.

Highlights in the advice for other business leaders include:

  • “Keep calm and carry on.”
  • “In the short to medium term we have a responsibility to ‘calm’ the situation and avoid over reacting.”
  • “Don’t panic under short-term uncertainty, it is sure to settle again. See through the scaremongering. Do you remember the millennium bug Y2K? How much planning, fear went into that. The clock struck midnight and we entered 2000…. nothing happened… It shouldn’t make us pause our plans…”
  • “Take a deep breath and choose what you want to be. The reset button has just been pressed.”
  • “Don’t worry, the relationship between the EU and the UK is too important for both sides. Thus at the end of the day we will have a good ‘deal’ with the EU – potentially via the EEA.

Highlights in the advice for the UK government:

  • “Stop infighting, focus and get on with it.”
  • “Don’t rush into a solution and withstand the pressure from the EU for a ‘quick fix’.”
  • “Don’t sell us short.”
  • “Be clear what you want and why, and stick to your guns.”
  • “Think of the people you represent first – not of yourselves. Then work together to find leaders that can unite our country. Then create clear, simple and effective policies that benefit our economy and our society. Plan now for effective ways of working that will positively affect our children’s and grandchildren’s future.”
  • “Don’t attempt a second referendum, it will look like you are asking the question until you get the answer you like. As a nation we are able to stand on our own two feet and rise to meet the challenges that this will put our way. Whilst many of us disagree with the outcome we are where we are and need to plan to achieve our favoured future outcomes.”

About the Survey

The Harvey Nash ‘Brexit – What Do Business People Think?’ Survey collected data between 28th June and 29th June 2016 and represents the views of 478 UK business leaders. Of the respondents, 33 per cent identified themselves as board members and another 31 per cent as director but not board member, 24 per cent as senior managers and the remaining 12 per cent were spread between other managerial and team roles.

For more information about the survey and to request a full copy of the results, please email

About Harvey Nash

Harvey Nash has helped over half the world’s leading companies recruit, source and manage the highly skilled talent they need to succeed in an increasingly competitive, global and technology driven world. With over 7,000 experts in more than 40 offices across Europe, Asia and the USA, we have the reach and resources of a global organisation, whilst fostering a culture of innovation and agility that empowers our people across the world to respond to constantly changing client needs. We work with clients, both large and small, to deliver a portfolio of services: executive search, professional recruitment and IT outsourcing.

To learn more, please visit

Follow us on Twitter

Media Relations contacts:

Michelle Smith
Marketing and Digital, Harvey Nash plc
+44 (0)20 7333 0033