Less than one in five small firms have prepared for Brexit transition end

LaToya Harding
·2-min read
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One in five of those fearing the end of transition admitted to stockpiling goods, exacerbating a squeeze on capacity at UK ports in the run-up to Christmas. Photo: BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images

Fewer than one in five small businesses fearing the end of the Brexit transition are prepared for the changes that will take effect on 1 January.

According to data from the Fresh Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) just 18% of those that believe they will be negatively impacted by the UK’s transition from the European Union (EU) are ready.

The study, which surveyed more than 1,500 firms across Britain, revealed that uncertainty about future trade arrangements with the EU and COVID-related disruption has hampered efforts to prepare.

Last September, when firms were told to prepare for a no-deal outcome, the same figure stood at 21%.

One in five (23%) of those fearing the end of transition admitted to stockpiling goods, exacerbating a squeeze on capacity at UK ports in the run-up to Christmas. Meanwhile, less than half of those trading in goods have experience of handling rules of origin paperwork.

Of those that have started preparations, one in four have spent more than £2,000 ($2,704) on doing so, while one in ten (10%) said their costs had exceeded £5,000.

Although Britain left the EU on 31 January 2020, it will fully leave the bloc on 31 December this year - less than two weeks from now.

Discussions have stalled over three of the most contentious issues for both sides — fisheries, ensuring fair competition guarantees and ways to solve future disputes. Neither side has been ready to concede on these sticking points.

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Britain and the EU missed their 13 December deadline to reach a Brexit deal one way or another, but agreed to continue negotiations until Sunday 20 December.

If a deal cannot be agreed, however, the UK will be forced into a no-deal — or hard — Brexit, adopting WTO rules. Regardless of the outcome, small firms will have to meet rules of origin obligations to unlock preferential zero tariffs from 1 January.

FSB national chairman Mike Cherry said: “With only two weeks to go, small firms don’t have the time, money or clarity they need to prepare for the end of the transition period even if they want or need to.

“More than four years on from the referendum, and after such a torrid 2020, we urgently need to see negotiators strike a pro-enterprise free trade agreement in the days ahead, one that includes an ambitious small business chapter.

“Fundamentally, if the Government wants firms to make additional preparations over the coming days and into the New Year, it needs to put its money where its mouth is.”

Watch: What happens if no Brexit trade deal is struck?