It’s now just 5 months till the UK leaves the EU Single Market and Customs Union. Yet a new survey by the Institute of Directors confirms that most businesses have been far too busy coping with the Covid pandemic to even think about preparing for the change.
Only a quarter of businesses say that they are fully ready, as the IoD note:
“Nearly half of the 978 company directors polled in late June said they weren’t able to prepare right now, with one in seven distracted by coronavirus and almost a third saying they needed the details of any changes to be clear before adjusting. Those in the financial sector were most likely to be ready while manufacturers in particular had more to do. Directors in services felt especially unable to prepare at present, whether due to pressures of the pandemic or because they needed more clarity on changes.”
Most businesses are still hoping against hope that a deal will be reached with the EU, to enable business to continue more or less “as usual”. But the UK government doesn’t seem to share their concerns.
It has now published its new Border Operating Model – a detailed 206-page guide to what businesses need to do. It is also spending £705m on building a major new lorry park near Ashford in Kent, to serve lorries waiting to cross the Channel, and hoping to recruit 50,000 new Customs officers to deal with the extra 215 million Customs Declarations needed each year
Officials have also told industry leaders there will be a new “Smart Freight” app to enable lorry drivers to obtain a ‘Kent Electronic Access Permit’ – with fines for those who fail to do this. As the Financial Times notes:
“It seems quite late in the day to be launching these initiatives, however well intentioned. Building such an app is one thing — getting lorry drivers to download and use it effectively in the real world is quite another.”
Companies will no doubt continue to hope that a deal will be done at the last minute, to allow ‘business as usual’ to continue. But this is looking less and less likely as every day ticks by, as the CEO of Make UK warned last week:
“Should the UK fail to reach a comprehensive trade agreement with the EU, then those regions with a high concentration of manufacturing and a dependence on Europe as a major market will suffer a triple hit, given the impact of Covid-19. For some companies the combination may prove fatal.”
The risk of doing nothing is growing by the day. 5 months is really very little time to prepare for the scale of changes ahead if there is No Deal.