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Business Secretary says preparing for Brexit like readying for ‘bad weather’

Cabinet minister Andrea Leadsom admitted not enough businesses were prepared for leaving the EU on October 31.

Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom (Jonathan Brady/PA)
Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom (Jonathan Brady/PA)

By Patrick Daly, PA Political Correspondent

Andrea Leadsom has compared the way businesses are having to prepare for Brexit to getting ready for “bad weather”.

The Government has been on an advertising blitz in recent weeks informing businesses they may need to make changes to their operations to ensure they are sorted for Britain’s exit from the European Union on October 31.

If there is a no-deal Brexit on Halloween, trading regulations could change overnight, with new permissions required for freight and additional paperwork on imports and exports needed.

Business Secretary Ms Leadsom told the business committee on Tuesday that bosses should assess the risks associated with leaving the European Union the same way they would a weather warning.

If a Met Office weather forecast is more reliable than Government policy, then we really are in difficult times, aren’t we? Peter Kyle MP

“My advice to businesses has been to understand, each business for themselves, what they would need to do and by when at the latest they need to do it,” she told MPs.

“In any business dealing with any circumstances, whether you’re preparing for anticipated bad weather, a fiscal event that might change tax revenue, it is really incumbent on business to understand the sort of measures they may need to take.”

Peter Kyle MP, a member of the committee, used the same analogy to criticise the lack of detail businesses were being given on how to prepare given the Prime Minister has yet to secure a Withdrawal Agreement.

The Labour politician called the lack of foresight for the private sector “worrying” when the Brexit deadline is only 16 days away.

“When you have a weather forecast, you are probably going to get a longer-range forecast than you are going to get with any notice for this deal,” said the backbencher.

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Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom said businesses needed to prepare for Brexit in the same way they would ‘bad weather’ (Jacob King/PA)

“If a Met Office weather forecast is more reliable than Government policy, then we really are in difficult times, aren’t we?”

Ms Leadsom admitted that “not enough” businesses were properly prepared for Britain’s divorce from Brussels but blamed the Opposition’s Benn Law – which wants to delay Brexit until January in the event of no-deal – for hindering progress.

Boris Johnson has taken to calling the Benn Act the “surrender act” for attempting to take the time pressure out of the negotiations.

“Businesses are all aware of the work the Government is doing to prepare for leaving the EU without a Withdrawal Agreement but they are not taking action as a result of the Benn Act,” said the Cabinet minister.

“There is quite a lot of evidence that the willingness of businesses to take action has reduced significantly – (that is) from surveys with the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and others.

“Nevertheless, we continue to urge them at all the readiness forums, webinars and meetings we have to do just that.”

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An electronic display showing a ‘Get ready for Brexit’ Government advert, in London (Yui Mok/PA)

The Secretary of State told the committee she was aware that the “biggest businesses” had prepared by opening new offices elsewhere in Europe and hiring senior managers who were to be located on the Continent instead of Britain.

It was the failure of the previous administration, led by Conservative prime minister Theresa May, to deliver Brexit on time that had caused small business owners to cast aspersions on this month’s deadline.

“The fundamental problem we’ve had is not enough businesses getting ready. Not enough of them have actually been taking action,” said the former Commons leader.

“As you go down the supply chain to the smaller organisations, what we’ve found is that whilst many of them – the majority of them – are aware there is a chance of a no-deal exit, what a number of them have said is, ‘We’re not going to get ready yet, we want to see what the outcome is’.

“A lot of business say, ‘You asked us to get ready for the end of March and we didn’t leave so now you’re asking us to get ready for the end of October and it is not clear to us that you’re going to leave then either’.”

PA

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