Britain is scheduled to leave the European Union in 53 days, but progress toward an exit agreement has stalled because of deep political divisions in the United Kingdom. It’s unclear how Britain will trade with its biggest export market after March 29.
The 110 chief financial officers surveyed by Deloitte said that Brexit was the top risk to their businesses, which have a combined market value of £390 billion ($510 billion).
Some 80% said they expect the business environment to be worse as a result of Brexit, and more than half of those surveyed said hiring will slow.
Many companies are now calling for Brexit to be delayed. That would mean more uncertainty, but it would avoid the severe economic consequences of crashing out of the bloc without an agreement.
Ian Stewart, chief economist at Deloitte, said that risk appetite is at “recessionary levels” as companies continue to prepare for the worst.
“This survey shows that uncertainty over Brexit is driving a marked shift towards defensive balance sheet strategies among British businesses,” he said in a statement.
“Companies at the moment are unclear about the future,” Michael Izza, the group’s CEO, said in a statement. “As the [Brexit] roulette wheel continues to spin, UK plc is having to place its bets based on best guesswork.”
The survey results were based on 1,000 telephone interviews with members of the accounting group.