BUSINESSES in the central south believe a no-deal Brexit poses a bigger threat to their companies than a second wave of Covid-19, a poll suggests.

The research came ahead of today’s deadline for the conclusion of a free trade deal between the UK and the EU.

Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union will take full effect on January 1, with or without an agreement.

The prime minister’s spokesman said yesterday that “some progress” had been made in talks this week but there were still differences, “with fisheries being the starkest”.

According to the monthly Rethinking the Economy survey, conducted by accountancy and business advisory firm BDO, two thirds of companies nationally see a second wave of Covid-19 as a bigger threat than a no-deal Brexit.

But in the central south, the opinion was markedly different, with four out of five firms more concerned about withdrawing without an agreement.

The poll of 500 mid-sized companies revealed that 40 per cent in the region and adapted to the impact of the coronavirus and said they were performing well.

Arbinder Chatwal, partner at BDO in Southampton, said: “The region’s companies are bucking a national trend in terms of concerns about a no-deal Brexit, partly because as a home to two major ports it has always been seen as a gateway to Europe.

“Cross-border trading is extremely important to local businesses and they want to know this will still be practical and feasible when Britain completes its EU withdrawal on December 31.

“Furthermore, although Central South companies continue to feel the impacts of the pandemic, they have been adapting how they work to drive success and we’re not currently facing tighter restrictions here.”

The survey also suggested that 100 per cent of businesses in the region thought the government would make progress in the next three years on its ambitions to “level up” the UK’s regions.

Mr Chatwal added: “The research shows companies in Central South are focused on recovery. Forty-seven per cent are planning to invest more in their businesses in the next six months, while 37 per cent are looking at hiring apprentices and graduates.

“We’re seeing similar trends across the UK and it’s this prioritisation of investment and future talent that’s instilling confidence about the prosperity and levelling-up of regions nationwide.”