At 11pm tonight the United Kingdom officially leaves the European Union. Expect both cheers and tears from a country that remains bitterly divided over the toxic issue. They arguments and ramifications will continue for decades.
Don’t expect Remainers to pack up – grass roots movements are already planning their campaigns to fight to get the UK to rejoin, But now the real work begins – the bid to thrash out a deal with the European Union. How did we get here?
Back in 1973 – after a success campaign including Margaret Thatcher’s support for the UK moving closer to Europe – we joined the European Economic Community. Over the decades that became the European Union. Currently there are 28 member states which enjoy free trade and movement of people. Trading as a bloc has meant the EU can often strike better deals with other nations.
But the Eurosceptics who campaigned for the UK not to enter the EU back in the 1970s never gave up their fight. And, particularly within the Conservative Party, tensions around the issue grew. Believing the likely outcome of the 2015 general election would be another hung parliament then prime minister David Cameron promised an in-out referendum. He won a majority and did not have to form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats who would have blocked the vote.
On June 23, 2016, voters narrowly backed leaving. In the East only Norwich voted to Remain. What is the significance of today? In truth, very little. Tomorrow morning nothing will have changed. January 31, or ‘Brexit Day’ as some people have dubbed it, is purely symbolic.
But February 1 is when the starting gun is fired on the transitional period. Boris Johnson has promised that by the end of the year all ties will be cut, the UK will no longer have to adhere to EU laws and will be free to strike new trade deals with other countries. So, what happens now?
This is the tricky bit. If you thought the departure agreement was fraught the next 11 months promises to be even more so. Both sides have their own red lines and both sets of negotiators are confident they can get the deal they want. Put simply the discussions will be around what the future relationship between the two parties is. This would be difficult enough, but when striking deals with the EU all the member states need to agree.
Expect fierce lobbying from all sectors to try and secure the best deal for their industries. Until a deal is agreed the UK will continue to meet all the EU standards and abide by their laws. The trading relations will also stay exactly the same. What does it mean for Norfolk and Waveney?
Agriculture is a major concern for our region. The main change to farming after Brexit will be the phasing out of the EU’s system of direct payment subsidies – based largely on the amount of land farmed – in favour of a new system of “public money for public goods” which will reward farmers for environmental work or enhancing animal welfare. That will be a gradual change over a seven-year transition.
The current focus though, and the main issue for the next 12 months, relates to trade. With direct subsidies ending, the NFU is leading the calls for a legal commitment to protect Britain’s high food standards. For fishing, the government’s Fisheries Bill would create the power for the UK to operate as an independent coastal state, implementing its own policies, managing its own fish stocks, and able to negotiate foreign vessels’ rights to fish in British waters.
And, perhaps most importantly, what about holiday?
As we are entering the implementation period there is no change for anyone going on holiday to an EU country during 2020. The European Health Card is still valid and British citizens are still regarded as EU citizens across the Union. There is no need to get any visas to visit EU countries.
What should the region’s businesses do?
Oliver Pritchard, partner at Norwich-based law firm Howes Percival: “If you employ EU workers, offer to assist them to apply for settled status before the deadline, for example by helping with the application paperwork and collate employment-related supporting information and assisting with the application paperwork.
“If your business provides goods or services to EU residents or shares personal data with organisations in the EU, you may need to take steps to ensure you continue to comply with data protection laws if the EU and UK fail to agree an ‘adequacy decision’ to roll over existing GDPR arrangements before the end of the transition period
“Bear in mind that drivers may need one or more international driving permits to drive within the EU after Brexit. The rules could be different depending on which EU countries your drivers will be driving in.”
James Shipp, partner at chartered accountants Lovewell Blake, in Norwich, added: “Consider setting up an EU-based subsidiary, which would allow you to trade within the EU without any danger of a withholding tax should a comprehensive free trade deal not be agreed by the end of the transition period.
“When a no deal looked imminent last year, HMRC introduced ‘Transitional Simplified Procedures’, designed to help businesses import goods from the EU in the short term.
We don’t know whether these will be re-introduced in the event of no deal by 31st December, but registering now would seem a sensible precaution.
“Above all, don’t assume Brexit is done, and bury your head in the sand.”