The government has been forced to publish data suggesting that most exporters who do business only in the EU do not have crucial paperwork for trading in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
In response to pressure from Liberal Democrat MP Chuka Umunna, the Treasury has revealed that an estimated 245,000 businesses who currently trade only with the EU are still not registered for an Economic Operator Registration and Identification (EORI) number.
These are used by HMRC to identify businesses and collect duty on goods traded in and out of the UK. Businesses that already trade outside of the EU are registered, but if there is a no-deal Brexit they will also be needed by those which trade solely with the EU.
Treasury figures suggest that 150,000 VAT registered and 95,000 non-VAT-registered businesses fall into this category.
Government advice says that the process of issuing an EORI takes up to three days, but that “it can take longer than there are high volumes of applications”.
If the estimates are correct, it could mean HMRC would be faced with an average of 1,700 applications per day to ensure those businesses are able to trade immediately after a no-deal Brexit.
The Treasury had initially said that data about the number of businesses needing EORI numbers were not “readily available”, after Liberal Democrat MP Chuka Umunna asked on July 18. However, the MP threatened to raise a point of order and a Freedom of Information (FoI) request, and complained to the Speaker of the House John Bercow.
The government had already privately shared relevant data with various business groups already, claim the Lib Dems.
The new government under Boris Johnson has pledged to leave the EU on October 31 “do or die”, promising an extra £2.1 billion for no-deal preparations.
Umunna, who is the Lib Dems’ treasury and business spokesperson, said: “Pursuing a ‘no deal’ Brexit is a wholly irresponsible political choice of the new administration for which there is no mandate and which will put businesses and jobs at risk.
“Any form of Brexit will harm the economy and put obstacles in front of UK firms.”