With negotiations between the UK and EU once again at a decision point – and with just 24 days to go until the end of the Brexit transition period – the latest analysis by the British Chambers of Commerce shows that businesses still have insufficient official information available in 24 critical areas, undermining their ability to prepare for change on January 1.
The leading business organisation’s Brexit Guidance Dashboard – long used by both business and government to evaluate the quality of official UK government guidance – still has 24 of 35 key questions flashing ‘amber’ or ‘red’.
The BCC last evaluated the quality of official HM Government guidance to assess whether it provides sufficient, clear and actionable information that businesses can use to prepare for the coming changes in September and has now provided its latest assessment.
The BCC’s December dashboard finds:
- 24 unanswered questions reflect fundamental aspects of business operations, including UK/EU customs checks and rules of origin
- Government guidance has only been upgraded to a ‘green’ RAG rating in two areas (duty deferment accounts and the paperwork needed to import under a Generalised System of Preferences programme) since its last update in September
The BCC’s updated Brexit guidance dashboard compiles 35 questions most frequently raised by businesses, which apply in both ‘deal’ or ‘no deal’ scenarios. The BCC has assessed the information available to firms and rated it green (information is sufficient), amber (some information is available) and red (information is wholly inadequate).
The BCC gives just 11 areas a ‘green’ status (up from nine in September). Nineteen are amber (no change from September) and five are red (down from seven in September). Many of the unanswered questions reflect fundamental aspects of how companies operate.
Among other things:
- Firms still 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 remains very limited guidance on procedures for the movement of goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland
- 10-digit tariff codes have still not been published and there is still doubt about the final WTO MFN tariff rates
- There is no information on how UK tariff rate quotas will be administered or how businesses can access them beyond the transition period
The BCC said the lack of information with which to plan and potential deadline fatigue presented further challenges to firms up and down the UK, who have already faced reduced demand, ongoing Government restrictions and sustained cashflow challenges due to the Coronavirus crisis.
In addition to clarity on the new arrangements in any deal, it is crucial that the UK and the EU governments agree to implement changes in a way that helps businesses to adjust to the new procedures and systems that will come in to force from January 1.
Example UK easements could include:
- A temporary waiver of the £300 fine for hauliers arriving at Channel ports not border ready due to genuine errors in the preparation of their documentation
- Flexibility in the requirements for EU companies to be registered in the UK for paperwork purposes
- A mandatory grace period for all companies who have inadvertently shared personal data unlawfully between the UK and the EU (whether with third parties or subsidiaries) without adequate legal authority – unless there has been a substantive breach of data subject rights
On areas such as the mutual recognition of professional qualifications, HM Government should be prepared to act unilaterally to maintain the provision of services within the UK whilst also working with the EU and Member States on reciprocal provision, the BCC said.
If no agreement can be reached, BCC urges both the UK and EU to take steps to help keep trade flowing – in the interests of businesses on both sides.
BCC Director General Adam Marshall added: “With just weeks to go, businesses need answers, and they need them now. Posters and television adverts are no substitute for the clear, detailed and actionable information businesses require to prepare for the end of transition.
“None of the issues businesses are grappling with are new. They have all been raised repeatedly over the past four years, from tariff codes and rules of origin through to the movement of goods from GB to NI.
“The detail and precision of UK government guidance matters, and will make all the difference as the trading relationship between the UK and EU changes on January 1. With the clock ticking down, the Government must do everything in its power to provide businesses with answers as they prepare to navigate a New Year like no other.
“We welcome the fact that UK and EU leaders are still talking, as the overwhelming majority of businesses want the two sides to reach an agreement. If a breakthrough happens over the coming hours and days, the two sides must immediately set to work on pragmatic steps to smooth the introduction of the new arrangements from January, including easements for genuine administrative errors, clear procedures at ports, and fast help from customs authorities.”
The BCC’s Brexit hub can be found here.