Nearly one year on from Britain invoking Article 50, negotiations will shortly begin over the transition period and Britain’s future outside the bloc. While the broad outline and timetable for Brexit has been agreed, now the real deal will be ironed out.
Brexit rhetoric will need to meet businesses reality.
With so many of the discussions around Brexit having been dominated by such macro issues as the size of the divorce bill, the Irish border and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, it has been hard for individual companies to see any role they could have in helping to determine future arrangements which could significantly impact their operations. As a result there has been relatively little engagement from business outside of calls for clarity and warnings of a potential cliff edge.
Now is the critical moment for that to change.
Britain will spend the next few months ironing out the transition deal; the period under which existing EU rules and regulations would apply before moving on to the nature of a future trading arrangement covering, it is hoped, both goods and services.
This is now the time that we get down to detail, which opens the door for companies and trade associations to seek to shape the impact the future deal will have on them.
The Government doesn’t just need to be made aware of what the implications will be for different sectors of the economy; it wants to be made aware.
If the release of the infamous Brexit impact assessments taught us anything, it’s that there is a massive lack of awareness within Government of the impact of Brexit on each industrial sector. This should not be surprising. Although both DExEU and DIT have been increasing their staffing, there is still a very limited resource available within Government to understand all the implications. This throws the onus onto business to fill this gap.
Companies and trade bodies can hardly complain when they feel that Ministers have not fully grasped what is required for them to continue to thrive post-Brexit if they have not taken every step to ensure that they have communicated this.
Rather than wait for Brexit to happen to them, companies need to seize the initiative and communicate what they specifically require from the future arrangement with the EU.
This value of business making representations to policy makers can already be seen in the evidence House of Commons Select Committees have been gathering.
The fisheries industry warned about potential barriers to trade, but also how delays could affect supplies of fresh catches and the need to employ seasonal fishing labour.
Representatives from the automotive industry told MPs that Brexit will affect issues ranging from vehicle authorisation to the costs of the potential delays of importing car components.
The Chemical Business Association stated that the adoption of the main elements of the industry’s regulatory framework into UK law was the most pragmatic and cost-effective way forward.
Companies across Britain communicating these concerns will allow Ministers, MPs and civil servants to make better informed decisions.
Civil servants and politicians have told us that the Government has never been more open to wanting to hear the voice of individual companies. BEIS is sending officials around the country to gather intelligence. They are attending major business events and are openly inviting representatives of companies and trade bodies to come in to talk to them in Victoria Street.
This is particularly true of companies with EU-based plants and businesses, with Government eager to know what Brexit will mean for their operations abroad.
The EU Withdrawal Bill also represents a vital opportunity to influence the outcome of Brexit.
While the Bill is intended to cut and paste existing EU rules and regulations into UK law, in the aftermath the detail of these will need to be reviewed to see if they are fit for purpose.
Companies and trade associations should use this opportunity to make informed representations over which regulations should be kept, thrown out or amended for better effect. The earlier these messages are conveyed, the better the chance they will have to influence the business environment in which they operate.
For those who choose not to, there is no guarantee that competitors and rivals will be quite so apathetic.
So far the reality of Brexit has been difficult for businesses and government to grasp, but for companies their future outside the EU is dependent on the next phase. The devil will lie in the detail.
Now is the time to make your voice heard.