UK businesses in limbo as talks with EU drag on
Government blames companies for not being prepared and promises weekly meetings
London — The UK government is intensifying talks with industry as it seeks to avert Brexit disruption at year end, with companies facing upheaval even if Britain and the EU sign a trade deal.
Ministers will hold weekly meetings with the country’s five biggest business groups and most affected sectors to discuss Brexit preparations, the cabinet office said in an e-mailed statement. The government has expressed concern that many firms have their “heads in the sand” and are ill-prepared for Brexit.
“We recognise that this is a challenging time for everyone,” cabinet office minister Michael Gove said in the statement. “We are determined to support businesses to be ready for January 1 2021 and beyond.”
When Britain leaves the EU’s single market and customs union, and irrespective of whether there’s a free trade agreement, firms will face a wave of new red tape and regulatory barriers on commerce with the bloc. The UK government has warned of queues of 7,000 trucks long around the port of Dover in a worst-case scenario due to firms not being ready for new EU customs checks.
“Sectors know there will be disruption no matter what the outcome of ongoing talks,” said Josh Hardie, acting director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, one of the lobby groups that will join the meetings. “Helping firms prepare and mitigate wherever possible is vital.”
Negotiations over a trade agreement — which would keep tariff-free trade between Britain and the EU but wouldn’t remove the new red tape and obstacles — are due to be extended beyond this weekend’s informal deadline and continue in Brussels next week, according to two people familiar with the matter.
“Business needs direction and decisions by government — not another set of meetings,” said David Wells, CEO of Logistics UK, which represents 18,000 businesses in the logistics industry. “This feels like nothing more than a smokescreen to cover up the government’s lack of focus on the issues which will hit the UK hard come January 1 2021.”
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