Boris Johnson could agree to an adjustment period into any final trade agreement with the European Union to provide “breathing space” for businesses.
The post-Brexit trade talks have entered into a decisive week, with Cabinet ministers among those signalling that the discussions have entered into last chance saloon territory.
On Sunday the environment secretary George Eustice suggested there would be a “phasing-in period” for checks on goods entering Northern Ireland at the end of the Brexit transition period, and urged ministers to widen the policy to cover all sectors.
It has led to the Liberal Democrats joining forces with a leading business figure to press the prime minister to effectively extend the transition period for six months to give businesses more time to adjust to any new regulations.
Sir Ed Davey, leader of the Lib Dems, and former Siemens boss Juergen Maier have told Johnson in a letter that “breathing space” is required for businesses to adjust to any changes agreed with Brussels when the transition period ends on December 31.
They warned that industry is already dealing with the “unprecedented” challenges caused by Covid-19 and that the threat to some firms was “existential”.
“Uncertainty is bad for business at any time, but the combination of the challenges of battling the impact of coronavirus restrictions alongside having now to cope with the huge challenge of complying with new trading procedures, at very short notice, could be very damaging,” they said.
“Indeed, some in the business community tell us they are seriously concerned that the threat they face due to these twin challenges is existential.
“Industry bodies from every sector of the economy have warned that they will need time to adjust.
“So we urge you to negotiate the reasonable and practical measure of a three to six-month adjustment period in the EU trade deal, to save jobs and businesses.
“By phasing in new rules, regulations and procedures, our businesses would have the breathing space they need to prepare and adapt. The UK will also have time to prepare for the logistical burden of customs checks at the border.”
The call comes as the UK’s chief negotiator Lord Frost and his EU counterpart Michel Barnier continue negotiations in Brussels with just over six weeks to go until the end of the transition period.
The talks, which follow a similar round in London last week, come ahead of a European Council video summit on Thursday which has been touted as a deadline for a draft deal.