The government has launched a new information campaign preparing UK businesses for the end of the Brexit transition period, but campaigners warn it will be ineffective, and will come too late into the process.
Dubbed ‘The UK’s new start: let’s get going’, the £93 million media blitz will include a barrage of adverts on television, radio and online, with information also sent to people via text message directing them to a checker tool on a government website.
Businesses looking to export or import to or from the EU will be told to ensure they have registered with the relevant customs authority and can contact a ‘field force team’ for one-to-one support over the phone.
Some UK-wide guidance will not apply to trade between Northern Ireland and the EU until negotiations have concluded.
The campaign will occur in four ‘bursts’ between July and May 2022.
The first ‘burst’ of information in July will focus on ‘nudging’ people to prepare for the ‘consequences and opportunities’ of a no-deal Brexit. This will later develop into a full-scale ‘shock and awe’ campaign in September and November.
This will change to messages on ‘loss avoidance’ during December and January and to ‘new opportunities’ promotions from February 2021 onwards.
But despite the government’s best efforts to whip UK industry into line, a recent survey by the Institute of Directors (IoD) shows that an overwhelming majority of companies are simply not ready.
Only quarter of business leaders say their organisations are fully ready for the end of the Brexit transition period while nearly half of the company directors polled said they weren’t able to prepare right now.
One in seven said they were distracted by coronavirus and almost a third said they needed the details of any changes to be clear before adjusting.
Jonathan Geldart, director general of the IoD, said: ‘With so much going on, many directors feel that preparing for Brexit proper is like trying to hit a moving target. Jumping immediately into whatever comes next would be a nightmare for many businesses
‘A commitment to some form of reciprocal phasing-in of changes once clear is a long-standing ask from our members, and the benefits would be significant. At a time when government is rightly straining every sinew to help firms deal with widespread disruption, it would be counterproductive not to seek to minimise it at the end of the year.’
Naomi Smith, the chief executive of Best for Britain – a group advocating for a comprehensive trade deal with the EU, said the information drive has come too late.
‘Having chosen to end our existing trading relationship with the EU under such a tight timetable, it’s little wonder the government feels the need to launch a public information blitz.
‘We’ve had two information campaigns before this one, costing the taxpayer millions.
‘But the main worry is that neither businesses nor public sector bodies have enough time to make the significant operational changes needed by the end of the year, while at the same time trying to stay afloat, keep paying their employees and delivering for their customers.
‘There’s a lot more red tape involved in putting trade barriers up than there is in tearing them down.’
Liberal Democrat acting leader Sir Ed Davey said: ‘Businesses right across the United Kingdom have struggled to survive financially over the past few months as a result of the coronavirus crisis.
‘The fact that the government is now trying to force them to gear up and prepare for the end of the transition period will fill them with utter horror.’
He said it was time ministers ‘sought as close as possible relationship with the European Union to not only minimise the damage to the UK, but allow both themselves and British business time to focus on getting the UK back on its feet again after the pandemic’.
But cabinet office minister Michael Gove said the companies had to prepare for leaving the single market and customs unions whether a deal was struck with the EU or not.
‘While we have already made great progress in getting ready for this moment, there are actions that businesses and citizens must take now to ensure we are ready to hit the ground running as a fully independent United Kingdom,’ he said.
‘This is a new start for everyone in the UK – British and European citizens alike – so let’s get going.’