After years of political wrangling and to-the-wire negotiations, Brexit for real has finally happened. For many in the general public, that’s it. Brexit is done. But for UK businesses returning to work from a well-earned festive break, the real work is yet to begin.
The end of the transition period and arrival into a new era of UK/EU relations arrived with little fanfare. No great rip appeared in the waters south of Dover and supermarket shelves haven’t emptied overnight.
Of course, the ongoing pandemic continues to take up much of the public and news bandwidth and, probably not until summer holidays come around and UK holidaymakers are no longer allowed to join the EU queue at airports – and when they return home to a roaming data bill – will many really notice the effects of Brexit.
But businesses reeling from pandemic mitigations now have very real, but also very actionable, challenges ahead.
Here’s a look at just some of the key issues for UK firms:
Customs, origin, VAT, safety, livestock health… there’s a raft of extra red tape that exporters now have to deal with to continue trading relatively seamlessly with the EU.
The government itself has admitted that there could be ‘bumpy moments’ in the weeks ahead as both businesses and hauliers get used to new rules and requirements.
Business travel has a new set of rules
The good news for fans of international meetings is that short-term business visits to the EU can continue, up to a limit of 90 days in a six-month period.
However, the scope of what a business visit now covers without the need for a work permit has changed. Meetings, consultations, research, training and trade shows are all good, but selling goods or supplying services to the public are not.
The government advises that business travellers check what visas and permits may be required for specific trips into the EU.
What’s happening with data?
Much like with the introduction of GDPR, there is still some confusion and large grey areas around the use of handling of personal data between UK and EU businesses. The EU has yet to decide if the UK’s personal data protection rules are tough enough to allow continuous flow, something which if altered could leave British firms less competitive than their EU competitors.
A temporary arrangement to continue allowing data flow for the next six months has been agreed, but the lack of detail on financial services and the potential requirement for a legal data representative on the continent are just two big future potential stumbling blocks.
Firms may accidentally break the law
There may be a raft of UK firms that accidentally break the law or, in the very least, the new trade agreement rules over the coming weeks.
The IfG gave some examples where this could take place, noting that: “Some industries, especially food, will simply be unable to do this: cane sugar imported from the Caribbean and refined in the UK will not qualify for access to the EU tariff-free, nor will basmati rice imported from India and milled in the UK.
“Any meat product must contain only meat from animals born and raised in the UK or the EU.”
Businesses that aren’t aware of new requirements within the trade agreement may continue trading as normal but be in violation of the new agreement.
Whilst there will no doubt be a certain level of understanding and a grace period to cover issues like this, that won’t last forever.
Planning for the future
There’s no doubt that the agreement of a trade deal has brought some certainty for the future. Businesses now know that tariffs and taxes won’t be levied on their goods, and Rules of Origin is far less restrictive as it could have been.
But there are still gaps in the agreement, and we don’t know how fast or how expansive the new Global Britain will be.
The Department for International Trade has been sprinting to form new trade and continuity agreements with a host of countries, and there will no doubt be more to come.
The advice for UK businesses right now would be to get to grips with the new trade deal, make the required changes as soon as possible and then, once some stability has been restored, make preparations to be able to capitalise on new global opportunities as they arise.
Growing into the future
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