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Written by Martin Agnew & Dr Kerri Agnew, August 2020

Introduction

Since the emergence of Covid-19 earlier this year and the resulting global pandemic, Brexit which once dominated the news headlines, swiftly took a back seat. The fear of Brexit was quickly replaced with the fear of Covid-19’s health effects.

The UK government recently reminded the nation of Brexit with the launch of its advertising campaign in July called “The UK’s new start: let’s get going”.[1] On the TV advert, a “Check, Change, Go” strapline directs people and businesses to a checker tool on the Government’s website which outlines the next steps they need to take before the end of the transition period. Though Brexit has been a legal reality since the 31st of January 2020, people and business have largely been insulated from the consequences because of the existence of the 11 month long transition period taking us to the end of the year which continues to bind the UK to the customs union, single market and EU rules.

Despite the UK and Irish Government’s efforts, businesses whom import and export (traders) are alarmingly unprepared to service the transition from frictionless trade within the European Union, to the new trading arrangements that will prevail when the current transition period ends this December 31st at 11pm. A recent survey revealed that less than a quarter of British business leaders feel they are ready for the end of the transition period.[2] Similarly, despite the best intentions of the Irish Government, businesses south of the border similarly feel unprepared.[3]

There are significant gaps in customs knowledge and trade expertise among traders because these skills have been declining in the economy for nearly three decades. It is an urgent priority for every trader across Ireland and the UK to get Brexit ready. This will involve traders ramping up their efforts to access customs intermediaries, get staff trained and build internal competence to cope with the new trading reality, specifically on what information and documentation to submit to customs. In this opinion piece we focus on some of the challenges traders face and the current skills gap to service them as the end of the transition period closes in.