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Preparing for Brexit as we recover from COVID


Jack Simpson's latest column for The Journal

The UK has a paradox, on the one hand, it needs to recover from COVID, on the other, it has to brace for Brexit.

Coronavirus has placed the economy in hibernation since March. While the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, has been aimed to restore confidence, only 35% of punters feel confident to return to venues, while our latest indicators show 60% decline in regional business turnover.

The UK has spent around £200bn on the necessary packages to support civilian and business life through the crisis, from a party that has built a reputation for economic stability, this is unprecedented.

Autumn will be crunch time, as the Furlough Scheme ends, attention turns to loan repayment and a new Government budget. There are some serious challenges facing the business community.

While all this is on pause, Brexit is steamrolling ahead. Deciding not to extend transition, the UK will be leaving the EU on 1st January 2021, four months’ time. How will Government manage the tight rope of both economic recovery from Coronavirus (touch wood) and the need to prepare for, and impact of, Brexit.

First, preparation is key. The Government has already announced a £50m Customs Fund, helping business that deal with customs to train their staff and build new IT systems to improve the business handling of Customs.

Members across the region have already benefited from the fund, taking on our expert-led customs training courses. Knowing trade will be subject to customs, declarations and new costs, deal or no deal, business can and should be getting familiar with border processes.

Almost as important, and it might sound simple, but time and honesty is needed. For example, no deal, in any form, would be disastrous, however, it would be even worse if announced a day before January 1st.

Caught unprepared and unsupported, UK trade would be slapped with harsh trading barriers, restricted movement of people, data, and services.

The Chamber acted as a vehicle to translate Government guidance and support business through the Coronavirus crisis. The Treasury also improved its engagement, allowing it to be more flexible and responsive to business needs. Who’d have thought engagement would provide key insights?

I suppose the Government could support regional institutions to do the same with Brexit…

Communication and support, two valuable lessons Coronavirus has taught us about how to be a more cohesive and effective body. Taking these lessons will be key in making some sort of success, or just sense, out of Brexit.