Survey unveils the hidden emotions behind the Brexit vote - for those outside as well as inside the UK 

A survey which sought to find out how people in the UK and Europe feel about Brexit has produced some shock results which could have major consequences for global business.

Brexit has dominated headlines in the UK ever since June 2016 when, in a referendum, the country voted to leave the European Union. Much of the focus has been on how it will affect the UK economy and on the political challenges ahead in negotiating the best outcome.

Now a survey by Crown World Mobility, a business which helps corporations manage global talent, has looked at the cultural opinions, perceptions and emotions about Brexit in continental Europe - as well as in the UK.

It polled 2,505 business professionals in Germany, Republic of Ireland and the Netherlands, and 1,013 in the UK, who work in companies which offer international assignments - the very people whose working lives could be affected most by Brexit.

In the survey, which laid bare the emotions behind the headlines, results from Europe included:

  • 54 % of those outside the UK believe Brexit is bad for the EU
  • 55 % say it is bad for international business
  • 38 % say their emotions towards the UK are now more negative (although 28 per cent are more positive)
  • 18 % choose ‘foolish' as the best word to describe Brexit - the top answer
  • 33 % when asked what the benefits of Brexit could be for Europe, answered ‘nothing' - the top answer.

Phil Smith, Global Director Financial and Compensation Services, Crown World Mobility, said: "It would be easy to think that Brexit is an isolationist issue relevant only in the UK, but this survey paints a very different picture - one that businesses all over the world will want to take notice of.

"More than half of respondents in every country felt Brexit was bad for the EU and almost as many agreed it was bad news for international businesses; and opinions like that are unlikely to come without repercussions.

"Whilst there is some understanding as to why Britain voted to leave, Brexit has also generated some negative feeling towards working and even travelling to the UK.

"That's significant because uncertainty can have negative consequences if work is not done to keep relationships strong.

"The impact of the vote seems to have gone beyond the residency and business aspects, to also affect personal sentiment towards the UK.

"How people ‘feel' is an often a hidden aspect of international business, but it should not be underestimated."

The words used to describe how people feel about Brexit were certainly powerful.

Here are the top answers:

UK:  1 Foolish: 18 %; 2 Small minded: 12%; 3 Deluded: 11%

Germany: 1 Foolish: 18 %; 2 Small minded: 15%; 3 Deluded: 11%

Netherlands: 1 Foolish: 17%; 2 Brave: 12%; 3 Deluded: 10%

"It's interesting to see that the Netherlands chose ‘brave' in second place, which indicates a greater level of empathy towards Brexit in that region," said Phil Smith.

"In fact, the results in the Netherlands were often vastly differently to those in Ireland in particular, which shows that not all views on Brexit are clear cut.

"Negative emotions can be driven by fear and uncertainty. The survey also showed that business professionals in Europe fear it is going to be harder and more expensive to work in the UK post-Brexit, which is an important issue for the future of global mobility.

"As many as 45 per cent feared so in Germany, as did 41 per cent in both Ireland and the Netherlands. Other fears included that it would affect exports and make it harder to employ UK citizens in future. It's clear that businesses will need to adapt."

It is not just European countries that are feeling nervous, however. Anxious, insecure, trapped and uncertain are the words which people working in the UK, including those on assignment, are using to describe how they feel after Brexit.

The results showed: 

  • 40 % say they feel more uncertain
  • 22 % feel less integrated
  • 18 % say feel less welcome as a worker.
  • 16 % say the ‘leave' vote had made them feel ‘trapped'.
  • 24 % say the best word to describe the way they feel about the future after Brexit is ‘anxious'.