Getting ready for Brexit

Getting ready for life after Brexit

The final stages of the negotiations surrounding the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement came to an end on 29 January 2020, ahead of the 31 January 2020 departure date, ensuring the UK’s exit from the European Union with a deal.

It’s been a tumultuous three years since the UK public voted to leave the European Union, with many stumbles and obstacles along the way.

Brexit was originally scheduled for 29 March 2019 and we worked for many months before this date with clients who had significant import or export activities to plan for any possible No Deal scenario.

At that time, the general view was that a Withdrawal Agreement would be finalised or that Brexit would be delayed. With so little apparent preparation by the Government for a No Deal Brexit, the most common solution was to ensure additional levels of stock were warehoused in convenient locations to avoid any disruption at ports in the weeks following 29 March 2019.

Brexit Day was of course delayed and we saw extraordinary events in the House of Commons as Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement was voted down three times, eventually by an historic margin. After Boris Johnson’s elevation to the Premiership, the political temperature in favour of a No Deal (if necessary) increased significantly with the UK Government insisting we would leave the EU at the end of October 2019.

As it happened, although the UK managed to renegotiate the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement to revise the customs arrangements for the Irish border issue and downplay UK commitment in a range of other areas, a further “flextension” was agreed to 31 January 2020.

With Britain leaving with a deal on 31 January 2020, is there anything more to think about?

Unfortunately, there’s still plenty to sort out. The Withdrawal Agreement provides for a transition period after Brexit, but does not amount to a long-term trade deal.

The transition period explained

There will be an 11 month transition period following Brexit, expiring on 31 December 2020. During this transition period, the current trading relationship and European Union rules will remain the same. This stage is an opportunity for the UK and European Union to negotiate further and come to an agreement on the finer details of the terms of their economic relationship going forward.

It is not clear whether negotiations for topics such as law enforcement, data sharing and security, trade, and immigration will start immediately on 1 February 2020 and whether there’s enough time to complete them. Any trade deal will need to be ratified by all remaining 27 EU Member States and the European Commission has indicated it may be weeks before negotiations can start in earnest, which means in practice there are less than 11 months to wrap a deal up. Many believe it is likely to take longer than 11 months to resolve the outstanding points, although Boris Johnson has maintained that the transition period will not be extended. We shall see.

How can you prepare?

We have helped clients over the past three years to prepare at various stages leading up to the proposed Brexit dates. We will continue to monitor the changes over the next few weeks and months, and track developments of the trade deal negotiations. Whilst few seriously believe the UK or EU will allow the transition period to expire without a trade deal or an extension, it may be sensible to prepare for that outcome. We can help provide you with an initial assessment on the likely impact of the transition period ending without a deal. Watch this space for further updates.

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