Brexit lures back the old boys but can they help businesses get a clearer picture?

The story that won’t go away for at least another two years is attracting some of the old dispatch box matinee idols.

Like me you may have switched on the television in the last couple of weeks and been convinced that ITV had revived “Spitting Image”. Both sides of the political divide rolled out the old boys on different occasions but with both singing from fairly similar hymn sheets.

First up Tony Blair launched the Open Britain campaign with a speech outlining the perils of “Brexit at any cost”.

Next up, a little less grey of complexion and with not a plate of peas in sight, Sir John Major spoke “to offer a reality check on our national prospects; and to warn against an over-optimism that, if unachieved, will sow further distrust between politics and the public”.

With two former Prime Ministers promoting caution, and over half the top bosses of leading UK companies recently saying Brexit was already having an adverse effect on their business and they had no confidence in the Government negotiating a good deal, planning ahead is clearly not going to be straightforward.

Spreadsheet Phil fills no gaps

The much anticipated pre Article 50 budget was expected by many hopefuls to have a stab at making the economy Brexit-proof. Unfortunately, like the recent Brexit white paper, it lacked detail and hardly mentioned it at all leaving the cynics to assume that the Chancellor cannot prepare the economy for Brexit when he clearly has no idea what the Government’s negotiating team are likely to achieve.

It is the uncertainty of it all that continues to be of most concern and it doesn’t help that the Government is unwilling to give any hints about negotiation strategy for fear of showing an early hand to any Brussels bullies.

Whether you voted to stay or go this current stance leaves the remainers with a much bigger box of tricks. Even if they don’t happen two years down the line the potential pitfalls and costs of waving goodbye to 53 trade deals, restrictions in the movement of personnel, and coming up with something that must be agreed by 27 nations, each with their own national interests, are easy to illustrate.

On the other hand, it seems the only thing that the Government can say with any certainty is that we will get back control of our borders and ditch the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

Arms across the Atlantic

For those relying on our special relationship with America to fill some of the gaps left by splitting from another huge territory, they may also have to have a re-think.

A previous newsletter article laughingly warned of the (remote) possibility that Donald Trump would become POTUS in the November elections. Well, not many people are laughing now and it will be interesting to see how, despite the handholding love-in at the White House colonnade, the UK might get a favourable trade deal with someone who seems to have protectionism etched through his heart like a stick of rock.

The continuing US/UK “special relationship” probably has a lot to do with the fact that we are the insider and the bridge to the massive trading bloc that is the EU. Cast adrift on our own, and despite the chumminess between Mr Trump and Nigel Farage, it will be interesting to see if we’re treated with quite the same reverence.

Even though Mr Trump applauded the UK referendum result the USA still needs an ally within the EU and that won’t be the UK in a couple of years time.

Prepare as best you can

So how does this leave businesses? The unfortunate answer to that is rather like mushrooms. However, despite being fed a poor diet when it comes to Government advice and assistance, there are some things that should be done regardless. After all, doing something is better than doing nothing and then scrambling around at the last minute.

All businesses should at least undertake an audit to ascertain the extent of exposure to the EU should there be any changes in formal trading arrangements.

For example, whether or not a business directly imports goods it is important to know the details of the supply chain and where product originates from. If your UK supplier is in turn supplied from an EU country there could clearly be knock-on effects.

Similarly a business may be happy that sales are only made to other UK companies and that their trade is 100% domestic. If on the other hand they supply components that are subsequently incorporated into a product sent for export the supply chain issue could be the same but in reverse.

Whatever the outcome in two years time, the volume of paperwork usually involved when shifting goods to and from other countries is unlikely to reduce.

Border controls and free movement are clearly at the centre of the whole Brexit debate and for those businesses employing workers from other EU countries it is a worrying time.

Whether or not they carry out highly specialised full time technical work or provide casual labour for seasonal industries there could come a time when they are no longer available. Contingencies for the loss of valuable human assets should therefore also form part of an EU exposure audit.

Animation restoration

It’s strange to think that somewhere in the corner of a warehouse in TV land there are boxes and boxes containing latex models of former Government big hitters sitting idle and saying nothing.

Unfortunately, when it comes to help and guidance on the subject of Brexit for business, their current day incarnations are not just looking rather similar, they’re the spitting image.

Steve Leeves