Just 97 working days remain before Brexit and much ground is still to be covered

As the clock ticks down towards the 29th March 2019, pressure is ramping up on Government and industry to anticipate and prepare for whatever changes may occur when the UK leaves the EU. On one hand, a negotiated settlement is proving difficult to finalise; on the other, Day One No Deal preparations are gathering pace, if not at a critical juncture.

The UK Chamber hosted its third Brexit Forum for members on Wednesday 7th November, which provided an opportunity for industry and Government to consider the latest developments in the UK’s negotiations with the EU.    

The UK Chamber was pleased to welcome Chris Heaton-Harris MP, the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) Minister for Ports and Borders, to provide the Forum with an eagerly anticipated update on Government preparations. 

The Minister reported on the progress of negotiations and how he was coordinating the preparation for a No Deal scenario. In an upbeat address, Mr Heaton-Harris said the EU withdrawal agreement is 95% complete and the latest proposal to manage the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland has been positively received and is being refined. The audience cautiously approved this positive message. 

However, the key concern for members of the UK Chamber, particularly in the short-sea sector, was that of future border management on ports. In the event of a No-Deal Brexit, this issue is still largely unresolved. The Forum was designed expressly to address the myriad of issues around our future borders and the meeting with Government officials proved timely and valuable. 

We found a unity of opinion that a No-Deal Brexit was unworkable

Two panel discussions were held to share the thoughts of key maritime sector stakeholders. The first session involved Stena Line; the law firm Holman Fenwick Willan and KNVR, the Dutch Shipowners’ Association. Each reflected on their perceptions of Brexit progress and what impact it is having on their business. 

This was followed by a second panel discussion involving other industry associations, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI); Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) and the Road Haulage Association (RHA). 

Both sessions demonstrated strong links between the various maritime stakeholders and the fact that our common concerns are shared with other associations. The RHA was perhaps the most forthright in voicing its concerns about the lack of readiness for a No Deal outcome among the haulage industry and its customers. 

While the Minister had been ebullient, the haulage industry and large parts of the shipping industry are concerned that too many aspects of No Deal planning will just not work. 

At this week’s Brexit Forum, there was growing support that industry must be more forthright in expressing these concerns, as many other business leaders are now doing. Failing to agree a proper withdrawal agreement that includes a minimum two-year transition period is both an unworkable and unacceptable outcome.    

Dealing with trade will take time — and it will cost

We were treated to a masterclass in the politics and particulars of Trade Deals by Professor Alan Winters of the UK Trade Policy Observatory (UKTPO), who described the complexity of trade deals, both in their construction and their long-term impacts on industry sectors and economies. 

Further serious consideration is required in order to establish how such proposed agreements would add value and benefit the UK, Professor Winters said. Issues like cabotage make Maritime Services notoriously difficult to negotiate and are rarely prominent in such agreements. While the principle of forming new trading relationships is obviously sound and positive, in reality trade deals are difficult to negotiate and to conclude, and do not always deliver the benefits we expect. 

We must continue to work together to find solutions

The Department for Transport (DfT), HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), Home Office and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) all attended the Forum breakout sessions, which saw a frank and lively dialogue between Government and industry took place. 

The Government stressed the importance of their series of Technical Notices and these were seen as a sound first step. It was surprising that many attendees remained unaware of the extent of the advice that is available and the topics that are covered. The Government’s use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) was identified as limiting the greater awareness of withdrawal preparations and many attendees urged their relaxation. 

You are encouraged to check all the Technical Notices that affect you and your business – you can find the entire series here

The UK Chamber’s next Brexit Forum will be held early in the New Year. Between then and now, we are expecting some major developments. You can keep up with these on our website and in our newsletters, through our committees and by contacting either myself or Matthew Wright

For more information contact:

Gavin Simmonds

Policy Director - Commercial

020 7417 2822 / 07885 495925