With nine months to go, and Brexit talks way behind schedule, it is more important than ever to plan for all eventualities.

This week the EU Withdrawal Act became law, setting in statute a Brexit day of 29 March (when the UK will leave the EU at 11pm) and transferring EU law into UK law to ensure continuity for businesses and citizens. This confirms that the UK will leave the EU in exactly nine months. This is a rare point of clarity in the Brexit process. 

At this point in proceedings, in project management terms Brexit is way behind schedule.

At the start of this year the June EU Council taking place today was seen as a key milestone when EU heads of state and the UK government were expected to agree some of the principles of the future EU-UK relationship. In practice Brexit was barely an agenda item for the EU heads of state and all decisions are being pushed back to the October Council. In its short communique on Brexit (see photo), EU heads of state called on all stakeholders (including business) to "step up their work on preparedness at all levels and for all outcomes". In other words, make sure you have contingency plans for all scenarios, including No Deal.

What are businesses doing to prepare?

Faced with uncertainty and with nine months to go, business is responding in different ways. Some business, particularly large corporates and those in regulated sectors such as financial services and pharmaceuticals have carried our scenario planning and developed contingency plans, which in many case they are starting to implement.

Good corporate governance requires many businesses to conduct Brexit contingency planning. The Financial Reporting Council has issued guidance for any organisation that is required to publish a strategic report as part of its public reporting: “We expect companies to provide increasingly focused disclosures, identifying the company specific risks and opportunities as the economic and political effects of the [Brexit] vote develop and become more certain” 

Others businesses take the understandable position that faced with a lack of clarity, it is impossible to plan and there is a risk of investing in solutions that may not be needed at the final count.

Our experience of working with businesses shows that it is possible to plan for Brexit in a way that narrows uncertainty; identifies 'no regrets' decisions that prepare you for any eventuality; focuses on the top risks and opportunities; develop contingency plans for dealing with these and the trigger points for putting these plans into action.

Over the last 18 months, I have talked to over 500 organisations about Brexit. With expert business advisers across a range of areas, and working with clients, we have developed a methodology for Brexit planning. This models a number of different scenarios, exploring the technical regulatory and legal changes alongside possible changes to markets and business environment resulting from political, economic and behavioural change and assessing these against all aspects of the business to identify risks and opportunities.

We have found that this narrows the range of risks, as it identifies areas that are less affected by Brexit. For one defence contractor, it showed that their business model is resilient to most Brexit changes and their risks are minimal. For another services business it narrowed their focus by identifying that their critical risks and opportunities are all related to the economic impact of Brexit on their own clients.

Running full scenario planning often gives business more confidence, not least because invariably it identifies some opportunities for growth or efficiency as well as risks to manage.

We also find all scenarios usually feature some of the same risks and opportunities, which enables the business to take 'no regrets' action now. This can include:

- developing export and customs management capability;

- looking at export markets unaffected by Brexit such as the Gulf, USA, India and China;

- developing plans to recruit and develop home grown talent and workforce; and

- reviewing their foreign exchange hedging and working capital.

Financial Services clients have in many cases started implementing their No Deal Brexit contingency plans, as lead times for regulatory approval in other EU states mean they cannot afford to wait until later in the year to find out whether there is a deal or not. 

We also know that all UK Government Department have prepared No Deal plans. 

The outgoing resident of the CBI, Paul Drechsler, was recently quoted as saying “Anyone who isn’t preparing contingency plans is off their rocker”.

It is not too late to prepare for Brexit. If you do so, you have a chance to be ahead of the competition, and able to manage risks and seize opportunities.