Firms in limbo over post-Brexit trade, says minister

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By Isaac Newton Tetteh –

A government minister has criticized businesses for taking a “head in the sand approach” when preparing for post-Brexit trade.

Treasury and Cabinet Office Minister Lord Agnew said traders “really must engage in a more energetic way” to be ready for the end of the transition period on 31 December.

The UK and EU are still holding talks to negotiate a post-Brexit trade deal.

But No 10 has said time is “in short supply” to get one in place.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has set a deadline of this Thursday to come to an agreement, after which he has said the UK is ready to “walk away”.

Germany’s Europe Minister, Michael Roth, said on Tuesday that the EU was prepared for the “worst-case” no-deal scenario.

But both sides have said they want to get an agreement in place.

The UK entered an 11-month transition period when it left the EU on 31 January, meaning it continued to follow the bloc’s rules while a trade deal was negotiated.

Talks have been taking place since March, but there are still sticking points on finalizing a deal, including government subsidies to business – known as state aid – and fisheries.

If an agreement is not made by the end of the transition period, the UK will go onto trade with the bloc on World Trade Organisation rules – something the government says it is unafraid of, but critics worry will damage the economy.

Speaking in the Commons on Tuesday, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said “the scope and prospects for a deal are there” and he was “hopeful that we can close the gap”.

But, he added: “Ultimately it will require the same goodwill, the same pragmatism and the same flexibility on the EU side that the United Kingdom and this prime minister have shown.”

Asked by Treasury Committee chair Mel Stride whether the UK would be in “the right position on day one” after the transition period when it came to trading, Lord Agnew said the country was in “reasonably good shape” when it came to customs issues.

But he said: “The bit that worries me the most is trader readiness”.

Lord Agnew accused businesses of taking a “head in the sand approach” to preparing, which he said had been “compounded by what I’d call the quadruple whammy of two false alarms – the two [Brexit] extensions at the very last minute, then followed by Covid and now followed by the recession”.

He added: “The traders are not as ready as they should be.

“And if there is one headline that I hope comes out of this appearance today, I hope it is to send another shot over traders bows to warn them that it is their businesses that are at stake from the first of January and they really must engage in a more energetic way.


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