Government launches 'business task force' to help firms prepare for Brexit

12 November 2020, 00:30

Plans are being put in place for Brexit
Plans are being put in place for Brexit. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

The Government is launching a new business task force to help firms prepare for the UK's final break with the EU at the end of the year.

With just over seven weeks to the end of the Brexit transition period, senior Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove acknowledged it was a "challenging time" for business.

The move comes after the National Audit Office warned last week of "significant disruption" at the border whether or not the Government was able to secure a free trade deal with Brussels in time for January 1.

Officials said the task force - which meets for the first time on Thursday - would allow businesses and senior ministers to discuss potential issues "at pace" as they emerged.

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Mr Gove said: "Regardless of the outcome of the UK-EU negotiations, in just 50 days we are leaving the EU single market and customs union and this will bring both new challenges and new opportunities for businesses.

"We recognise that this is a challenging time for everyone, and we are determined to support businesses to be ready for 1 January 2021 and beyond.

"It is only by working together that we will be able to seize the opportunities that await us as we regain our political and economic independence."

The meeting comes as talks on a post-Brexit trade deal were continuing in London between the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier and his UK counterpart, Lord Frost.

Ireland's foreign minister Simon Coveney has said he expects them to carry on into next week - although this has yet to be confirmed by either London or Brussels.

Speaking at an event organised by the European Movement on Wednesday, he said that if there was no agreement at some point next week, there would be "real problems".

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CBI acting director general Josh Hardie said while business would work closely with ministers in the run-up to the end of the year, a free trade agreement was "crucial" to economic recovery.

"Sectors know there will be disruption no matter what the outcome of ongoing talks, so helping firms prepare and mitigate wherever possible is vital," he said.

"As European economies grapple with national restrictions amid the global pandemic, a deal is crucial for recovery. There isn't a moment to lose."

It comes as Boris Johnson insisted there is still "a deal to be done" but all sides have acknowledged time is running out if the provisions of an agreement are to be implemented in time for January 1.

Post-Brexit trade talks between the UK and the European Union are not expected to reach an agreement this week and progress needs to be made soon if a new deal is to be in place by the end of the year when the current arrangements expire.

The EU's lead negotiator Michel Barnier has been in London for talks which are set to continue on Thursday.

Mr Johnson said: "There is a deal there to be done and we're keen to do it but it depends on our friends and partners understanding where we need to get to.

"But either way, we're going to be ready for whatever the outcome is. This country is full of plans and full of resilience and we'll have a good way forward."