UK firms expand into overseas markets in post-Brexit landscape


With the UK adjusting to life outside the EU, three in four UK businesses (78%) are putting plans in place to adapt for growth post-Brexit. 18% of firms have plans to expand into new overseas markets whilst one in seven are even putting plans in place to move their headquarters to an EU destination, according to new business research commissioned by ThoughtWorks, a global software consultancy.

Interestingly, the study on 1,026 businesses also discovered that there were almost as many businesses planning to expand abroad (18%) as there were enterprises focusing more on the domestic market (23%). The difference came down to technology. Businesses making the most of their tech assets were those most likely to be looking at overseas expansion (23%). Businesses that were improving their use of technology, but were some way behind the market leaders, were most likely to focus on attempting to grow their market in the UK (25%).


Regional highlights

From the research, ThoughtWorks found that the attitudes of business leaders towards securing growth after Brexit varied city-by-city around the UK. Whilst the Brexit political debate has largely been associated with London and Edinburgh, from a business perspective the research suggests it impacts various cities quite differently.

  • London businesses were the most likely to seek business partnerships in EU countries (27%) and to digitise their back office and legacy systems in order to become more efficient (21%). Businesses in the capital were also most likely to employ more staff that spoke foreign languages (20%).
  • Birmingham businesses were most likely to invest in digital transformation programmes (21%) as part of a plan to secure growth after the UK leaves the EU.
  • Leeds business decision makers were most likely to be looking at reducing their cost base and staff numbers (26%).
  • Glasgow was the city where businesses were most likely to say they would invest more resources into AI and machine learning (18%).
  • Liverpool businesses were most likely to prioritise the diversification of their business across more product lines and channels (30%).
  • In Manchester and Newcastle, business leaders were most likely to say they would focus on growing the domestic market (30% and 34% respectively). Further, Newcastle businesses were most likely to plan a move into new overseas markets (34%) and seek new partnerships in EU European countries (29%).
  • Bristol was the city where businesses were most likely to consider moving their head office to an EU country (20%).


Luke Vinogradov, Digital Transformation Principal, ThoughtWorks commented: “For years, people have speculated about the impact of Brexit. Since Friday of last week the speculation has ended as Britain sets out on a new journey. For the business community there will be uncertainty and those that turn it to their advantage will be the agile enterprises that anticipate change and adapt quickly. Our research suggests technology will be key. Those enterprises that fully use technology to achieve competitive advantage are already making plans to expand, to innovate and to grow.

As a trusted partner for many leading organisations, ThoughtWorks is helping businesses on their digital transformation journey. Across any organisation, making tech work for you means making choices. New ways of working can align your whole business around customer value; data can help you to build engagement and advantage; platform thinking and a test-and-learn approach will maximise the impact of your investments; and a delivery mindset will help you cut through the complexity and get things done. All of these digital capabilities can help businesses to modernise, change and grow – and get in shape to seize the opportunities that the post-Brexit era may present.”