Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove has said he is worried about how few businesses have made Brexit preparations for the UK’s exit from the EU single market and customs union.
Gove, the defacto Brexit minister, said today that figures showing that almost two-thirds of businesses had made no preparations for the end of the Brexit transition period were “concerning”, but “not surprising”.
The UK’s transition period ends on 31 December and sees the country remain in the EU’s single market and customs union, despite formally leaving the bloc on 31 January.
UK and EU negotiators are currently hammering out a free trade deal to ensure there will not be a hard exit at the end of the transition period for businesses on both sides of the channel.
Negotiators are trying to broker a deal that will see the EU and UK continue to trade on tariff-free terms, while if no deal is reached then immediate trade barriers will be erected on World Trade Organisation (WTO terms).
Politico reported today that the government was gearing up for a “shock and awe” advertising campaign to make the UK private sector aware of potential changes, after the UK leaves the transition period.
Gove said this was particularly important considering that government data shows that 61 per cent of UK businesses have “taken no action” to prepare for Brexit.
When confronted with the 61 per cent figure today at a meeting of Westminster’s Northern Ireland committee, Gove said: “It doesn’t surprise me, it does concern me.
“One of the reasons we do think it’s necessary to have an information campaign is to make sure people are ready for both the challenges and the opportunities as we prepare for life outside the EU and outside the single market.
“There are a number of actions businesses have been encouraged to take, for example acquiring the wherewithal to be able to export to European countries once we are outside the customs union and single market, and to take advantage of free trade agreements and opportunities elsewhere.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson met with EU chiefs on Monday, with all parties agreeing the negotiations needed “more momentum” after four rounds.
Johnson said afterward that talks needed “a bit more oomph”, but that a deal could be done by July.
“As I said to the three presidents you know, ‘put a tiger in the tank’, because it’s very clear what the UK needs and what our EU friends need to understand,” he said.
“We can’t have the involvement of the European Court of Justice in this country, we can’t have a system by where we continue to have to obey EU law even when we’re out of the EU and we’ve got to get a great deal for our fish.”
Particularly contentious areas in talks have been EU access to UK fishing waters, business competition regulations and the European Court of Justice’s role in governing a deal.
UK negotiators have said they will walk away from talks before the end of summer, and prepare for a no-deal scenario, if they cannot see a path to a trade agreement.
UK and EU negotiators will meet for a series of five consecutive week-long negotiating rounds beginning next month.