by Joe Jackson
The UK government on Tuesday urged businesses to get ready for the end of the Brexit transition period in one month’s time, as talks on a free trade deal remained deadlocked.
Ministers warned time was running out as the deadline approached, and firms had to finalise preparations to avoid potential disruption when new rules start on January 1.
Britain formally left the European Union on January 31 this year, nearly four years after a referendum on membership that divided the nation and paralysed its politics.
Under the divorce agreement struck with Brussels, it remains bound by EU rules for the rest of the year.
Nerves over life outside the bloc are increasingly frayed, given the current impasse in trade negotiations.
But the government has remained upbeat and argues Britain will prosper whatever the result of the talks.
“Regardless of the outcome of our negotiations with the EU, there are guaranteed changes that businesses must prepare for now,” said senior minister Michael Gove.
“There is no time to lose,” he added.
The plea for readiness came as the government also launched a new Border Operations Centre to be manned around the clock by a team of expert officials to monitor the UK border.
It will rely on software that gathers information about the flow of goods and passengers in real time.
The new technology will allow the government and local police to make “rapid decisions to ensure any disruption is minimised”, according to the government.
Brexit supporters narrowly won the argument for leaving the EU in 2016 with a claim that this would restore Britain’s control over its borders.
But there are fears the country’s imminent departure from the bloc’s single market and customs union after nearly 50 years could cause chaos at ports and logistics hubs.
Businesses have complained of inadequate preparations and contingency planning, with accusations that ministers are underestimating the sheer scale of the challenge ahead.
Deal or no deal, increased red tape in the form of customs declarations and permits will replace largely seemless transportation of goods to and from the EU.
British holidaymakers and business travellers also face the prospect of passport queues at border control on both sides of the Channel, and in airports.
Gove’s Cabinet Office department, which is in charge of Brexit preparations, conceded Tuesday the changes “will likely mean that there is short-term disruption at the border”.
But the new Border Operations Centre, which will analyse historical trends and have predictive capability, was part of plans “to develop the world’s most effective border by 2025”, it said.
The last-ditch UK-EU trade talks continued in London this week, with fishing rights still proving a key stumbling block to securing a deal in the little time left.
Agreeing rules over common standards and state aid regulations are also a long-running barrier, with both sides appearing unwilling to compromise.
“We remain committed to try to achieve it as soon as possible,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman told reporters on Monday.
“We’ve been clear we won’t change our negotiating position,” he added.