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Firms unprepared

Chambers demanding answers to 26 Brexit questions

Adam Marshall

Adam Marshall: ‘levels of preparedness are low’ (pic: Terry Murden)

Cabinet minister Michael Gove has been issued with a list of 26 key Brexit questions that remain unanswered with just 98 days until the end of the transition period. 

The British Chambers of Commerce has has written to Mr Gove seeking action for businesses and urgent discussions to help firms prepare.

Many of the unanswered questions reflect fundamental aspects of how companies operate. Among them:

  • firms do not know what rules of origin will apply after the transition period, preventing them and their customers from planning and potentially creating unprecedented new administration and costs;
  • there is no clarity on how food and drink due to be sold in the EU and Northern Ireland is to be labelled;
  • very limited guidance on the movement of goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland; and
  • no information on the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, key to ‘levelling up’ the regions and nations – despite years of calls for clarity.

The BCC has also published new research which suggests preparation for the coming changes is low due to the unprecedented challenges facing companies.

It found that just 38% of firms had completed a Brexit risk assessment this year, compared to 57% in 2019 and 35% in 2018. 

More than half (51%) of those surveyed had not taken any of the eight steps recommended by the government to prepare for changes in the movement of goods between the UK and the EU.

This includes fundamentals of operation for trading businesses such as checking on the need for customs declarations and assessing the possible impact of changes on existing customers and suppliers.

BCC director general Adam Marshall said: “With just 98 days to go, business communities face the triple threat of a resurgent Coronavirus, receding government support schemes, and a disorderly end to the transition period.

“Significant unanswered questions remain for businesses, and despite recent public information campaigns, base levels of preparedness are low.

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“While we recognise that some of the questions facing businesses are subject to ongoing negotiations between the government and the EU, other matters are within the UK’s own hands.

“The ‘Check, Change, Go’ campaign gives the impression that Brexit-related changes are like getting an MOT – whereas the reality is that for many businesses, they’re more akin to planning a moon landing. Businesses need honest communication about the complexity of the changes they face – and stronger encouragement to act.”

Haulage dispute

Mr Gove has been criticised for not getting the government’s IT systems in place after he accused hauliers of not having their Brexit paperwork in order for crossing the Channel.

Amid warnings that there could be queues of up to 7,000 lorries blocking Kent motorways in January, Simon Sutcliffe a partner at Blick Rothenberg said: “It’s all very well for Michael Gove to say that unless the hauliers get their paperwork in order there will be huge delays and confusion at UK ports, but the Government have still not put the electronic systems that they promised in place.” 

Lorry drivers will need a permit to enter Kent after the Brexit transition period ends, the government has said.

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Speaking in the Commons, Mr Gove said the Kent Access Permit system would be enforced by police and using cameras.

It is intended to ensure drivers have all the paperwork they need, he said.

Drivers of lorries weighing more than 7.5 tonnes will need to apply for the permits online and show that they have all the paperwork they need to ferry goods to Europe.

Miliband criticises lack of information

Ed Miliband, Labour’s Shadow Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Secretary, said: “The fact that so many fundamental questions for businesses remain unanswered when we’re getting down to the wire just underlines that this Government is not on the side of business.

“Business organisations have been asking these questions for months, and the absence of information and leadership from the Government means they are understandably finding it difficult to plan for the future. Paired with a looming furlough cliff-edge, they are operating under extreme uncertainty.

“The Government promised an oven-ready deal, but their incompetence is plain to see. They must stop prevaricating, focus on getting the deal they promised and giving businesses the answers they need, and ensure all preparations are in place for the end of the transition period.”



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