At the beginning of 2020, it was clear that one issue was going to dominate business thinking during the coming year: Brexit. The UK would leave the EU on 31st January, followed by an 11 month transition period during which the minds of business leaders would be focussed on planning for life outside the EU, outside the Customs Union, and outside the Single Market.
Except, of course, it hasn’t turned out like that. Surviving the Covid-19 pandemic has been just about the only focus, so much so that with just 86 days to go before the UK goes it alone, deal or no-deal, most businesses are woefully unprepared for what comes next.
This isn’t surprising. It’s difficult to plan when you don’t know what exactly you are planning for, and now the only real certainty is that the transition period will indeed end on 31st December. Even the already-agreed Withdrawal Agreement, lauded less than a year ago as an ‘oven-ready deal’, appears not to be set in stone.
A survey published by the British Chambers of Commerce last month showed that just 38% of firms have done a Brexit risk assessment in 2020. Even for those which don’t directly trade internationally, Brexit will have a profound impact, from supply chain issues to the availability of overseas workforce.
Whether a deal is done or not (and despite the pessimists, it is possible that pragmatism will win out over dogma and a deal will be thrashed out at the last minute), the way UK businesses trade with the EU and the rest of the world is about to change dramatically.
Bureaucratically, logistically and legally there will be many hurdles to get over. This includes where businesses trade with any of the 77 non-EU countries which have a trade deal with the EU, from which the UK will be shut out on 1st January.
It is understandable that coronavirus has had the lion’s share of business’s mindspace over the past few months. But with just 12 weeks to go, the spotlight has to turn back onto preparing for Brexit.
For that reason, over the coming
three months, this weekly Brexit Blog will look at what businesses need to be
doing to prepare for life outside the EU, and attempting to plough through the
political spin and opaque negotiation-speak to bring you a clearer picture of
what is happening.