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Gloucestershire Business News

Questions remain unanswered as Brexit clock keeps ticking

Businesses still have insufficient official information about Brexit according to the British Chambers of Commerce - little more than three weeks before the end of the transition period.

The Brexit Guidance Dashboard analysis by the national body which represents Business West looked at 35 key questions - 24 of which remain unanswered.

As negotiations between the UK and EU reach their conclusion with the outcome remaining uncertain, the December update to the dashboard found little movement on the unanswered questions which undermined the ability of businesses to prepare for change of January 1.

It said the 24 unanswered questions reflect fundamental aspects of business operations, including UK/EU customs checks and rules of origin while Government guidance has only been upgraded to providing sufficient information in two areas - duty deferment accounts and the paperwork needed to import under a Generalised System of Preferences programme - since the last update in September.

The 35 questions rated the quality of information available to firms as Green (information is sufficient), Amber (some information is available) and Red (information is wholly inadequate).

Just 11 areas are given Green status (up from nine in September) while 19 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 and the findings include:

  • 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 administration and costs.
  • Very limited guidance on procedures for the movement of goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
  • Ten-digit tariff codes have not been published and there remains doubt about the final WTO 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 lack of information with which to plan and potential deadline fatigue presents further challenges to firms 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, the report said it is crucial the UK and 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.

Possible 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.

If no agreement can be reached, Business West is urging both the UK and EU to take steps to help keep trade flowing.

Business West managing director Phil Smith said: "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 Great Britain to Northern Ireland."

He continued: "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."

Find out more about Business West at businesswest.co.uk and you can contact them at 01275 373 373.

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