Firms urge UK and EU to 'smooth the cliff edge' of Brexit disruption

Tom Belger
·Finance and policy reporter
·2-min read
The skyline of the City of London is seen in the evening sunlight on December 17, 2020. - Stock markets mostly gained Thursday as investors kept an eye on US stimulus progress and the rollout of vaccines but surging infections and new lockdowns tempered gains. The pound held around 19-month highs against the dollar as the Bank of England held fire over interest rates and stimulus as Britain and the EU continue their 11th-hour talks on their post-Brexit trading arrangement. (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images)
UK firms want mutual UK and EU recognition of reach other's qualifications among other demands to limit Brexit disruption. Photo: DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images.

British business chiefs are calling for UK and European Union governments to “smooth the cliff edge” of Brexit disruption as trade rules are overhauled in the New Year.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) warns it is now “impossible” for many firms to be ready for changes from 1 January, as they lack the business-critical information needed to prepare.

“From knowing whether staff will be able to travel across borders for work; whether IT teething problems could mean delays at borders; whether firms will face tariffs that not only undermine their competitiveness, but also their very existence; to what the new rules of origin are in the event of a deal,” it said in a new report. “These are all questions without answers.”

The leading business lobby group warns such unresolved issues could lead to “high prices, fewer choices, job losses, and even greater uncertainty.”

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It has written to UK and EU officials calling for “grace periods” delaying the imposition of some of the new administrative hurdles looming for cross-border trade. A failure to take more steps to minimise disruption threatens the fragile economic recovery since the pandemic hit, according to the CBI.

Negotiations are ongoing over a trade deal on Friday, with the EU warning a breakthrough is needed within hours. But radical changes and new costs for firms will occur even if a deal is struck, in an abrupt reversal of decades of integration that has bolstered seamless UK-EU trade.

The CBI’s report sets out 48 recommendations that could help limit disruption whether or not a deal is agreed.

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They include telling both sides to offer:

  • ‘A grace period’ of six months for traders who make errors in paperwork.

  • A year delay before firms have to fill out complex new rules-of-origin forms and meet new import and packaging rules for British mainland goods in Northern Ireland.

  • A mechanism to avoid a “temporary data cliff edge” if no deal is reached, which could wreak havoc by threatening the legality of cross-border data transfers.

  • Agreements to formally recognise qualifications from the UK or EU nations if no deal is reached, allowing professionals to continue to work.

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