Britain urges firms to prepare for end of Brexit transition

Businesses must act now whether or not deal is clinched, govt says

The United Kingdom formally left the EU on Jan 31.
The United Kingdom formally left the EU on Jan 31.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • Britain's government yesterday urged businesses to prepare for the end of the Brexit transition period, saying that they need to take action whether or not a trade deal with the European Union is clinched.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said Britain will not extend the transition period, which ends on Dec 31, and that progress must be made to bridge significant gaps between the two sides in the coming days if a deal is to be struck.

The business ministry argues that most of what businesses need to do is the same regardless of the outcome.

"With just 81 days until the end of the transition period, businesses must act now to ensure they are ready for the UK's new start come January," said Business Minister Alok Sharma. "There will be no extension to the transition period, so there is no time to waste."

Businesses needed to do things such as ensure staff register for residency rights and prepare for Customs procedures when trading with the EU, the government said.

Britain formally left the EU on Jan 31, but more than four years since voting 52 per cent to 48 per cent for Brexit in a 2016 referendum, both sides are still haggling over a trade deal to take effect when informal membership ends on Dec 31.

The two chief negotiators, the EU's Mr Michel Barnier and Britain's Mr David Frost, say they are inching towards a deal ahead of an Oct 15 deadline, but that important gaps remain on fishing, level playing field issues and governance. Both sides have planned for a no-deal scenario.

France's European Affairs Minister yesterday said the EU and Britain must reach an agreement by the start of next month, but that the bloc would not accept a bad deal for the sake of reaching a compromise.

"We must not lose our calm in the final days of negotiations because that is sometimes when bad concessions are made," Mr Clement Beaune told FranceInfo radio.

French fishermen would be better off with no deal rather than accepting "unacceptable" proposals, France's Minister of the Sea said in an interview published yesterday.

"So far, the UK has made unacceptable proposals. Fishermen would rather have no agreement than a bad agreement, and they are not wrong," Ms Annick Girardin told the JDD newspaper.

"We have laid out red lines: access to fishing grounds, quotas and the species that we fish today. Europeans must preserve their resources and their access."

The EU wants to secure consistent rights to fish in British waters, an important issue for France where coastal fishing communities are politically influential.

Britain wants a deal more like that of non-EU member Norway, under which quotas are set each year.

"We're preparing for all eventualities, and therefore also for a no-deal. France is preparing to support its fisheries and the entire industry. European tools will have to be put in place for this," Ms Girardin said, adding that she still hoped a compromise could be reached.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 12, 2020, with the headline 'Britain urges firms to prepare for end of Brexit transition'. Subscribe