No Bregrets: is Brexit remorse on the rise?

New research shows more than three-quarters of UK firms trading with the EU see the existing deal as no help at all

Brexit jobs
Voters now consistently believe Britain’s decision to leave the EU was wrong
(Image credit: Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

Condemnation of the EU-UK trade deal from British businesses as well as a perceived rise in immigration levels into the UK has resulted in the British public beginning to show signs of Brexit remorse.

Research by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) found more than three-quarters of firms trading with the EU see the existing Brexit deal as no help at all when it comes to increasing sales or growing their businesses. In the survey of more than 1,100 businesses, 92% of which were SMEs, as many as 77% said the Brexit deal had not helped them to increase sales or expand.

The BCC has put a list of demands to the government that includes “a side deal with the EU to reduce red tape on food exports, as well as measures to ease VAT, working visa and other hurdles”, reported Politico’s London Playbook. The body is also pushing for a swift resolution to the controversial Northern Ireland Protocol dispute.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

It comes as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has had to contend with suggestions he wants a closer alignment with the EU and with polling showing “voters now consistently believe that Britain’s decision to leave the EU was the wrong one”, said The New Statesman.

What did the papers say?

Business owners and leaders who spoke to the BCC “were scathing about the Brexit arrangements 24 months on from the end of the transition period”, added Politico.

“Leaving the EU made us uncompetitive with our EU customers,” said one retailer from Scotland. “Exporting goods into the EU since Brexit continues to prove difficult,” said a manufacturer in the East Midlands, while another in Dorset added: “Brexit has been the biggest ever imposition of bureaucracy on business.”

Shevaun Haviland, the BCC’s director-general, said that with “a recession looming, we must remove the shackles holding back our exporters. If we don’t do this now then the long-term competitiveness of the UK could be seriously damaged.”

But Mark Spencer, the food minister, insisted that the government was making progress on reducing bureaucracy and helping businesses. “Of course, there’s always more that we can do to try and ease the way for the passage of trade – we’re very keen to do that,” Spencer told Times Radio.

“We’re a free and open trading nation. We want to work closely with our EU colleagues, we want to try and reduce that red tape if there is any red tape on their side of the channel, so of course we want to keep those channels of trade open in both directions.”

The BCC’s complaints came as the Financial Times reported that the UK’s associate membership of the EU’s €95bn Horizon research programme, which had been “foreseen in the Brexit deal”, has been “blocked by the EU because of a bitter dispute over post-Brexit trading arrangements in Northern Ireland”.

“Why would we sign another agreement with the UK until they comply with the ones we already have?” one EU official told the FT.

These Brexit woes have been compounded for Sunak by recent polling that shows voters believe Brexit “has triggered a surge in immigration from the European Union, despite arrivals from the continent falling since 2016”, said The Telegraph.

What next?

Anand Menon, director of the UK in a Changing Europe research group, said the main driver of support for a softer Brexit was the ongoing economic crisis. “The one thing polling does show is that more and more Leavers now think Brexit has been bad for the economy,” he told Politico

In a blog for UK in a Changing Europe, polling guru John Curtice said: “There might be a better reception among voters for a softer Brexit than perhaps politicians realise.” Curtice cited consistent polling from Redfield & Wilton that voters want the UK’s relationship with the EU to be closer than at present.

But “parliamentary arithmetic also matters”, said Bloomberg. Many Conservative MPs elected in 2019 are pro-Brexit, “making any new overtures to Brussels unlikely before the next election, due by January 2025”, multiple Tories told the news site. Brexiteer MPs “would attempt to oust Sunak if he tried that”, another MP claimed.

On the Northern Ireland Protocol at least there is some hope that the UK and the EU will “strike a compromise on reformed arrangements before the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday peace agreement next Easter, although significant differences remain”, said the FT.

This all points to “what is now the most important Brexit split, one that also afflicts the Labour party”, said the columnist Robert Shrimsley in the same paper. “The key divide is no longer between Leavers and Remainers, but between those keen to make Brexit work better and those who have no interest in doing so,” he wrote.

“For now, the UK is served by two main parties which both know that Brexit is making the country poorer but whose focus is on damage limitation,” Shrimsley added. “But then, muddling through is a very British instinct.”

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.

Jamie Timson is the UK news editor, curating The Week UK's daily morning newsletter and setting the agenda for the day's news output. He was first a member of the team from 2015 to 2019, progressing from intern to senior staff writer, and then rejoined in September 2022. As a founding panellist on “The Week Unwrapped” podcast, he has discussed politics, foreign affairs and conspiracy theories, sometimes separately, sometimes all at once. In between working at The Week, Jamie was a senior press officer at the Department for Transport, with a penchant for crisis communications, working on Brexit, the response to Covid-19 and HS2, among others.