Just one in eight companies Brexit-ready

Lizz Truss

Only one in eight businesses feels ready for Britain’s departure from the European Union as the business secretary urges companies to step up their preparations.

In a letter to 600,000 UK businesses, Alok Sharma says that there is “no time to waste” and that companies “must act now” to ensure their operations are prepared for Brexit.

However, research shows that only 29 per cent of companies in Britain and around the world feel that they have a “good understanding” of what the transition period’s conclusion at the end of the year will mean. A further 36 per cent are said to have a “moderate” grasp of the changes, while the understanding of 35 per cent is described as “poor”. Only 13 per cent of companies in a survey undertaken by EY, the accountancy firm, felt prepared.

Mr Sharma’s letter emphasises that there will be “no extension” to the transition that has preserved trade ties between Britain and the EU since January. “Businesses have a crucial role to play in ensuring a smooth transition”, he writes, “and we will be there to support them through this change.”

Some industry leaders privately are expressing exasperation over the guidance and assistance they have received from the government. “What you’ve got here is a government that just hasn’t got a clue,” said one in regular contact with several departments. “It just doesn’t understand how the world works.” Ministers “don’t understand how things can fall apart — and they are falling apart”.

Asked what kind of deal they thought negotiators would strike this year, 53 per cent of companies said none, 29 per cent said a “skinny” free-trade deal and 5 per cent said they were expecting a comprehensive accord. Most said that preparations for Brexit had been affected by Covid-19; 17 per cent said it had not had any effect.