On Sunday the British government announced that it was launching a new phase of its public information campaign regarding the UK’s departure from the European Union (EU), popularly known as ‘Brexit’. This phase has the slogan ‘Time is running out’ and is intended to alert business to the imminence of the end of the UK/EU transition period.
The UK has already left the EU, but both sides have been operating in a one-year transition period during which the UK remained within the EU Single Market and Customs Union. The purpose of this transition period was to give the two sides time to negotiate a new relationship regarding trade in goods and service, fishing rights, regulatory frameworks, State aid to businesses, and so on. These talks have so far proven fruitless.
Both UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove will address business leaders this week, to give them the latest information of British preparations for the end of the transition period and to urge them to be ready for it themselves. The Prime Minister has already stated that the UK must be ready for what is popularly (but a little misleadingly, because both the UK and EU belong to the World Trade Organisation and apply its rules) called ‘no-deal’ Brexit but which the British government calls “Australia-style terms based on simple principles of global free trade”.
(Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is one of those very – roughly 700-year – old English/British offices that no longer has any meaningful connection with its original duties; it is basically an office for a Cabinet Minister assigned important duties that fall outside, or transcend, those of the normal government departments. The current holder is pre-eminently responsible for the implementation of Brexit.)
Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (the British equivalent of the South African Revenue Service) will write to 200 000 businesses who trade with the EU, to inform them of the new tax and customs rules that will come into force and how to comply with them. At the top of government, Gove has ordered that the Cabinet’s EU Exit Operations Committee henceforth meet on every working day of the week.
“At the end of this year we are leaving the EU Single Market and Customs Union and this means there are both new challenges and new opportunities for businesses,” highlighted Gove. “Make no mistake, there are changes coming in just 75 days and time is running out for businesses to act. It is on all of us to put in the work now so that we can embrace the new opportunities available to an independent trading nation with control of its own borders, territorial waters and laws.”
“With just 75 days until the end of the transition period, businesses must act now to ensure that they are ready for the UK’s new start as an independent trading nation once more. There will be no extension to the transition period, so there is no time to waste,” stressed Business Secretary (Cabinet Minister) Alok Sharma. “Businesses have a crucial role to play in ensuring a smooth transition, and the government will be there to support them through this change every step of the way.”
The British government published the country’s ‘Border Operating Model’ earlier this month. It has also announced £705-million of investment in border technology, infrastructure and jobs, as well as grants of £84-million to strengthen the customs intermediary sector. Because of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the new UK border control regime will be introduced in three phases, starting on January 1 and concluding on July 1 next year.