The Brexit transition period ended on 31 December last year, so we’ve all been operating under the rules of the trade agreement struck between the British Government and the EU for the last couple of weeks.
If you’re a business whose operations and customers are based entirely in mainland Britain, you might not have noticed much of a difference. If you’re a company that exports to the EU or imports from it, you might be getting used to new paperwork and even, in some cases, delays at Channel ports.
Cabinet minister Michael Gove has said he expects delays at the border between the UK and the EU “to get worse before they get better”, though he believes that these are teething problems that will eventually be ironed out.
But it’s not just our relationship with the EU that has changed. For the time being, the UK will export to many non-EU countries using World Trade Organisation (WTO) Most Favoured Nation (MFN) rules. The details of these can be found here.
In fact, experts believe that few UK companies will remain entirely unaffected by the new situation, even if they don’t trade directly with Europe. For example, Brexit has introduced new rules on the employment of EU nationals, and even businesses that don’t import EU goods may find that global supplies are centrally warehoused on the continent and subject to new regulations.
Be ready for Brexit change
It goes without saying that all businesses should be identifying the ways in which our new relationship with the EU affects them, and making any necessary changes. It’s just bad luck that these new requirements come into force as we all continue to struggle with the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic.
So how can businesses remain as productive as they need to be, while conforming to new trade deal rules and managing the impact of the pandemic? All businesses are different and face different pressures, but here are a few general tips for getting through the first few months of a new post-EU era.
Get the right information
If you haven’t done so already, you do need to study government information and act on it. For example, protect your talent by familiarising yourself with the new points-based immigration system and the EU Settlement scheme.
If you directly import or export goods or services regularly, you’ll most likely be familiar with the new rules already. But companies who only occasionally trade outside the UK may be less clued up, and many primary producers might sell to third party distribution groups who in turn trade with the EU. Those businesses may also be subject to new rules.
Businesses need to be more aware than ever of their supply chains. Your main supplier might be based down the road, but its own procurement network might stretch into the EU and beyond. At the very least, contact regular suppliers to ensure they have contingency plans in place for potential price hikes or delays in delivery.
Take the easy way out
Reading through reams of complex documentation may be the last thing you want to do right now, especially as you struggle with the impact of Covid. So don’t be afraid to take the easy path to enlightenment.
Tap into the resources offered by your trade organisation, local development agency, business banking service or borough council. Join webinars, download summary documents and organise video chats with businesses in a similar position to your own. Get on the phone to your suppliers and distributors, and grill them about their own plans. This is not the time to hang back. Be proactive in your communications until you feel you have all the information you need to ensure the smooth running of your business.
Keep everyone informed
And then pass that information on. Your staff may already feel insecure thanks to the pandemic, so this is a good time to update them on how little, or how much, the Brexit trade deal might affect your business (and their workloads). Outline the plans you are putting in place to ensure a smooth transition to the post-EU era. Remember, anxious staff are less productive.
Similarly, if you have customers in the EU or further afield, keep communications channels open. Email them with an explanation of the ways you intend to minimise any disruption, and follow up with regular calls or video conferences. Your EU customers and clients will also be feeling anxious about post-Brexit trade, and a friendly call can go a long way towards calming nerves and enhancing your personal relationship.
Exploit your pandemic productivity plans
Finally, the very best way to thrive through both the pandemic and any post-Brexit disruption is to make your processes as efficient as possible. Don’t let Brexit worries derail your plans for a better, more productive business. Give your staff the tools they need to communicate and collaborate smoothly from anywhere. Double down on your e-commerce operation. Exploit the latest Software as a Service (SaaS) applications to make your business both more efficient and more cost effective.
In other words, do what you were probably doing anyway. The pandemic forced every business to rethink the way it works and create leaner and more agile operations. The one upside of Covid is that many organisations are now better equipped to deal with any disruption the early weeks and months of Brexit might bring, and grasp the longer term opportunities that might arrive when the fog lifts.