More than a third of respondents to a PrintWeek poll asking readers what sort of Brexit outcome they would prefer said they would opt for a second referendum.
While this was selected by 36% of the almost 600 voters, it came in only narrowly above ‘no deal’, which was selected by 32%.
15% said they were ‘past caring’, 11% said Prime Minister Theresa May’s deal would be their preferred option and just 6% said they would postpone Brexit, which is scheduled for 29 March.
“I am not surprised at the breadth of opinion being offered and the continuing division of opinion that Brexit generates,” said Andrew Large, director general at the Confederation of Paper Industries.
“The numbers in favour of a no deal Brexit are concerning given the challenges that this might very well cause to the UK economy.
“I cannot speculate why so many have chosen no deal as their option. However, from the point of view of an industry with a very high level of cross European integration of capital, equipment, products and people, no deal would potentially introduce ruinous friction into the current, smooth running, commercial relationships.”
Regarding the high proportion of respondents that would opt for a second referendum, Large added: “A number of promises were made in the 2016 referendum, both about the end-point of the negotiations with the EU and the ease with which that process would happen.
“Events have taken a different track, and many people believe that it is right to ask the UK to confirm its choice, given that what has happened after the first referendum is to a large extent not what was promised by the winning side.”
Zoe Deadman, managing director at Launceston-based KCS Print, said: “My reading of the statistics would be that it polarises where people potentially were in their original position as much as anything. The second referendum and no-deal categories are basically remainers and strong Brexiteers.
“I think some people are maybe thinking that a second referendum is the only way to get some clarity now, but I think a lot of others have picked that option because they would actually like to remain.
“It’s hard to draw an actual conclusion from those statistics because this all comes back to the original problem we’ve got, which is people voted so linearly remain or leave, but nobody knows what leave actually meant.
“What’s almost missing in that poll is to say do you want to leave with a customs union or not, because that really makes such a fundamental difference, especially to print, in terms of any difficulties getting raw materials in or exports out.”
She added KCS has gone full tilt for no-deal planning and is “planning for the worst and hoping for the best”.
“Print is an industry that has been working on a knife edge for a long time so people don’t necessarily have the cashflow to stockpile. We’re fortunate that we do, and we have stockpiled and are stockpiling, but even then there ultimately becomes a limit to how much space you have.
“We’re going to have three months’ worth of raw materials here but who knows whether that is enough – it may be too much, it may be not enough, but you have to draw your line in the sand somewhere.”
Andrew Jones, managing director of Merthyr Tydfil-based magazine printer Stephens & George said: “How many companies in this country actually trade in Europe? Very few. We buy lots of products from Europe such as paper, plates and ink, but the SME businesses don’t actually sell much to Europe.
“So, there are a load of people who want to have another referendum – I personally don’t think we should because what do we do if the remainers win, play best of three? That’s not democracy.”
He added: “Politicians on both sides of the house have said that no deal is better than a bad deal. The printing industry’s main ingredient is paper, and there are no additional taxes to pay on the import of part mechanical and woodfree papers from Europe into the UK under the WTO [World Trade Organisation code of practice].
“So it wouldn’t actually affect us, apart from that we might have difficulty getting it into the country because the lead times might be longer. But we’re on one-month lead times anyway – we’ve ordered our paper on 1 February for delivery in March.
“We are doubling our paper order for March, so we’re going to have a buffer stock of about 300 tonnes of paper extra over and above what we would normally need in a month.”
Printing industry bosses had reacted with dismay and with pleas for certainty last month after Theresa May’s proposed Brexit deal was overwhelmingly rejected by MPs.