Parliamentary Spokesperson for South East Cambridgeshire, Pippa Heylings, supports Cambridge Chamber of Commerce's calls for immediate government clarity, to enable businesses to prepare for the end of the Transition Period. Pippa warns that we are careening towards a 'Brovid' cliff-edge for businesses, jobs and livelihoods.
Today, the cross-party Brexit Select Committee has published its latest report, containing a scathing assessment of the appalling lack of readiness. "At this late stage the government must be ready to implement contingency plans where necessary to mitigate the effects of any disruption. Failure to do so would mean the worst possible start to the new year for many people and businesses who are already experiencing the toughest of times," the report says.
Deal or No Deal, there is just too little time for businesses to get ready. And this is happening at the same time as the sudden shift to tighter Covid restrictions, which have thrown hospitality and retail businesses into even more dire straits, causing their Christmas sales to be further frustrated. Spiralling Covid infection rates mean that a full national lockdown in early January is now more than likely, meaning an even greater hit on all businesses across the country.
The government of business? No. Boris Johnson said "F**k business", and his government is doing a pretty good job at that.
The refrain from business remains: "Clarity. Just give us clarity and we will make the best of things." When the government says "Get ready, set, go", businesses are shouting into the wind: "Ready for what? Set for what? To go where??"
I was in a Zoom meeting a few days ago with the Chair of the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce, who told us that the Chamber’s Brexit Guidance Dashboard – long used by both business and government to evaluate the quality of official UK government guidance – still has 24 of the 35 key questions flashing ‘Amber’ or ‘Red’ with just two weeks to go:
- Firms still do not know what rules of origin will apply after the Transition Period, preventing them and their customers from planning, and potentially creating unprecedented new administration costs.
- There remains very limited guidance on procedures for the movement of goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
- Ten-digit tariff codes have still not been published and there is still doubt about the final WTO MFN tariff rates.
- There is no information on how UK tariff rate quotas will be administered or how businesses can access them beyond the Transition Period. Businesses are more than a little frustrated that there seems to be government messaging that blames them for not getting ready. When, in fact, they have been asking all year, throughout the Transition Period, for clear guidance and earlier negotiated agreements. With so little time left, "businesses need answers, and they need them now. Posters and television adverts are no substitute for the clear, detailed and actionable information businesses require to prepare for the end of Transition."
- Meanwhile, Stephen Phipson, Chief Executive of the manufacturers' lobby group Make UK, warned that many of the 2.7 million jobs supported by manufacturing businesses were heavily dependent on trade with the EU. "A No Deal would be catastrophic for Britain’s manufacturers, a sector which came to the nation’s aid when the Covid crisis struck," he said. "It is vital that the Prime Minister and the President of the EU Commission work together and find a pragmatic solution to deliver a zero-tariff and zero-quota deal to avoid additional friction at the border."
I am not calling all of this a failure of statecraft, because I see little evidence that statecraft has been applied in the Brexit negotiations. Businesses are being thrown under the bus, along with food standards, workers' rights and environmental and animal welfare.