Brexit, it hasn’t gone away and not even a global pandemic has halted its course.

With the deadline for extending the transition period for the UK leaving the European Union (EU) now passed, we have ‘pinned our colours to the mast’ and on January 1st 2021, our relationship with Europe will fundamentally change forever.

Brexit represents the most important constitutional shake-up that the UK has known since it first joined the European Economic Community in 1973 and businesses will now need to act quickly to get ‘ready for Brexit’ (again).

Where are we now?

Back in February, the UK ceased to be a member of the EU. Now, the UK and the EU are aiming to strike a deal on trade and the future relationship to come into effect when the transition period (which keeps most arrangements of the UK’s EU membership temporarily in place) comes to an end in December.

The negotiations, which began in March this year, cover trade in goods, policy areas on fishing, farming, aviation, security cooperation, data policy, education and science. The formidable challenge of securing a trade deal with the EU in a few months during the transition period — a task that usually takes the EU many years — means both sides could be staring at another economic "cliff-edge".

What does this mean for business?

Well come January 1st, 2021, the UK will no longer belong to the EU’s Single Market and Customs Union and the longer the negotiations go on, the more costs businesses will have to incur to protect themselves from this cliff edge.

What’s the end goal?

Over the past few months, both sides have outlined their positions and as the negotiations deepen, those entrenched differences start to look like uphill struggles.

For the EU, it wants a wide-ranging, comprehensive agreement covering all areas under negotiation and with a close alignment to the existing EU structures and institutions. The EU’s Chief Negotiator, Michel Barnier, stated that there could be no trade deal unless Britain agreed to the “level playing field” the common rules and standards that prevent businesses in one country undercutting their rivals by gaining a competitive edge.

On the other hand, the UK is seeking a simpler and narrower, free trade deal (FTA) and additional separate agreements on other areas of cooperation. The UK wants to make sure that these areas of cooperation and divergence from EU rules do not compromise its newfound independence or betray the essence of Brexit while the EU wants to show that life inside the bloc is better than the outside.

Customs are… complicated.

At the same time as these negotiations and the ongoing coronavirus crisis, the government has warned that the outcome of the ongoing Brexit negotiations will not alter the significant changes to trade with the EU changes that businesses must prepare for.

"Customs declarations are complicated" – Page 8 of the latest 208-page government guide to importing and exporting after the transition period ends at the end of this year.

Businesses now have a daunting checklist to get ready for doing business with our largest and closest trading partner. The government is clear - there will be no last-minute reprieve this time. Businesses thinking that this ‘won’t happen’ or that any rush to get ready only to have the reality postponed makes it all rather pointless, will soon find themselves in choppy waters.

So what can I do?

The government has advised that businesses who export goods to the EU to hire an intermediary, such as a customs agent or a freight forwarder, to help them navigate the new requirements.

Businesses could also consider applying for an Economic Operator's Registration and Identification Number, (EORI) which ensures that hauliers have the right driving licences and permits and making sure their VAT accounting processes are ready for EU imports.

Earlier this month, Cabinet Office minister the Rt. Hon Michael Gove MP said he was concerned by the “lack of preparatory action taken by firms”, and in response, the government has launched its latest multi-million-pound campaign, ‘The UK’s new start: Let’s Get Going’ with its new slogan ‘Check, Change, Go’ which sets out the actions people and companies need to take to prepare for the end of the transition period on 31st December.


Conclusion – Don’t Panic Mr Mainwaring…

In the famous words of Lance Corporal Jones and also printed in large font of the back of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Don’t Panic!

The Black Country Chamber through its Black Country International Programme is here to help.

It is committed to helping its members and businesses around the region with the smooth transition of goods and services across international borders.

The dedicated Department for International Trade Advisors and Chamber Export Documentation Team is ready to help and support.

So, whether you’re new to trading internationally or an experienced exporter get in contact today to get your business ready for Brexit. 

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