It has been a while since I blogged about Brexit. There certainly hasn't been a shortage of Brexit news over the last two months: defeats for the government in the House of Lords; divisions within the cabinet, the conservative backbenches and between the Labour leadership and their MPs and party members.
Never in their wildest dreams would my indirect tax colleagues have anticipated so much discussion of customs. The Irish border now has its own twitter account (@borderirish ) that gives a humorous take on the very serious debate about Northern Ireland. And even my dad has got in on the act with his Brexit inspired painting ‘Hard Red Lines’ (in all its glory below – and a shameless plug for his new exhibition starting this weekend: Dorset Art Weeks ).
So there has been more Brexit noise, more discussion and news, than ever. But there is still very little of substance. I increasingly spend my time advising organisations on how to plan for Brexit (which is one reason for my lack of blogs recently). My advice is largely unchanged from what I was saying at the beginning of the year.
Since January, I have been using three core scenarios with clients to help plan for Brexit:
1. A free trade agreement and transition period, as sought by the UK government.
2. No Deal: no agreement is reached and we revert to WTO trade with the EU in March 2019.
3. We stay in the single market (EEA) and customs union - as a result of an election at which Labour comes out in support of this softer Brexit.
Given we use these scenarios for helping clients develop their business plans, not a day goes by when I do not reflect on whether they are still valid. And I have yet to change my mind. In practice, Brexit probably will not look exactly like any of these scenarios but they give a good basis for contingency planning. As things stand today:
1. The UK Government and EU continue to negotiate the principles of a Free Trade Agreement and are trying to find a solution to a ‘frictionless’ the northern Ireland border that will enable this to proceed.
2. These negotiations are progressing very slowly and the hope of securing a deal by October looks extremely optimistic. There are plenty of bumps in the road that could derail the talks completely – including the Irish border question not to mention treatment of Gibraltar and securing ratification by the UK and European Parliaments to the final deal. So No Deal remains a distinctive possibility.
3. Just as there are significant forces pushing towards a hard Brexit, there are also counter-forces pulling towards a softer Brexit where the UK remains in the single market and customs union. The House of Lords has made its views known on tis and there is arguably a majority of MPs in favour of this too. In the last week, we have heard talk of a possible autumn election if there is a stalemate in Parliament on Brexit or the government is defeated. This means that organisations also need to plan for political volatility – including looking at what a change of government could mean for the business environment.
The UK government appears to be delaying any difficult votes on Brexit in the House of Commons at the moment. Matters should come to a head in the autumn – crunch time and the point at which Parliament may exert itself and determine the shape of Brexit. That is leaving things late for organisations to plan for March 2019.
Many organisations I talk to are already planning for Brexit and are ‘’planning for the worst, hoping for the best’ – with contingency plans for a hard Brexit. In the next few weeks, I will share more on what I am seeing in different businesses and other organisations. In the meantime, do share your Brexit planning stories….
In the face of continuing uncertainty it is easy to delay acting until the detail is available but this may be too late. There are steps businesses can take now to prepare regardless of the final deal