From 11pm tonight (31 January), the UK will no longer be a member-state of the EU. From that time, an 11-month transition period begins in which a new free trade agreement is intended to be struck between Boris Johnson’s government and the EU.
This period will end on 31 December 2020, at which point the UK and EU must adhere to the terms of any agreements that are made.
BPIF chief executive Charles Jarrold commended the setting of concrete dates as a “move away from Brexit uncertainty to Brexit certainty” and advised print businesses to begin moving ahead with their plans for the future.
“It is now very clear that Brexit is going to take place and there will not be any extensions,” he said. “While there remain question marks over the nature of our trading relationship with the EU, there seems to me a clear wish and intent on both sides for reasonably frictionless trade – though this might mean a number of trade-offs and compromises.
“My advice to the BPIF membership and print businesses is to look at the reality of the sector, as it is one where businesses cannot hold off decisions forever. We have Drupa this year and many more opportunities to engage with investment so companies can stay relevant.
“I advise that companies fully engage with this process, though it is still important to bear in mind that deals may be done around trade but finalising the full details may drag on beyond our full exit in December.”
Last week, Jarrold was among 30 signatories representing the “whole UK economy” on an open letter to the government calling for a points-based immigration policy that would allow businesses to ensure security for any of their members of staff from the EU.
For Launceston-based KCS Print, the hard pre-Brexit work is done, and it is now a matter of “wait and see”, according to managing director Zoe Deadman who said: “Today is a non-deadline and it is the end of the year that will matter. We have to know the nature of the deal otherwise we cannot do anything.
“Listening to the EU leaders, I think there is every chance we will see a fairly broad deal agreed so we do not fall off a cliff, but it will take much longer to finalise. Until then, we cannot prepare beyond our stockpiling measures already in place.”
For Grafenia chief executive Peter Gunning, the continued lack of certainty has been exasperating.
“We almost jump from headline to headline saying that business confidence is up and then the next says it is down,” he said. “It’s a lot of big unknowns still, and we are having to get ready for the likely customs headache – things like commercial invoices are simply burdens we would rather avoid.
“I was especially discouraged to hear that travel arrangements will be treated like a hard Brexit as we were told that that would be worst-case, now it is reality. I guess we at least have another year to understand what is happening.”
While the continual delays to Brexit have been a source of frustration for some, the protracted timeline has meant that much of the uncertainty and turbulence of the early days after the referendum has now subsided, according to Birmingham-based Bakergoodchild's sales director Adam Stafford.
He said: “Truthfully, I think we are quite well-prepared, even if it is difficult to prepare for the unknown. Our position on Brexit is that we do not really have one, either way it goes you can only plan to a certain degree.
“Most of the major disruptions came in 2018 and early 2019 as processes adjusted but now things seem to be back to normal for us and we are not too worried so long as we have enough stock in consumables. We are an agile company with a small board that can think on our feet and respond quickly to whatever challenges crop up.”
One major question mark now seemingly resolved has been the issue of the Irish border, as the prime minister has pledged there will not be a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland – reassuring words for Belfast-based Northside Graphics.
Managing director Gary White said: “From now until 20 December, there is nothing that will change. It is the same position as before, the deadline has simply moved. For us, it’s business as usual but things are better because we have had confirmation on the border which makes things easier for our business in Northern Ireland and ROI.
“We have heard assurances from the prime minister about unfettered access and so we will take that at face value for now, but we have to wait and see.
“It all depends on trade negotiations as they remain massively general even with this absolute deadline. We are very confident about our own business, but we do need the government to get on with it.”