Britain is warning of a “bumpy” post-Brexit period for UK businesses and travellers as they adapt to new European Union regulations from January 1.
Michael Gove, the cabinet minister in charge of Brexit preparations, said there would be practical and procedural changes to consider when the Brexit transition period ends on December 31, and urged travellers heading to the EU to make extra checks, such as on the validity of their passports, travel insurance and mobile phone roaming charges.
“Businesses will need to make sure that they’re ready for new customs procedures and we as individuals will need to make sure that our passports are up to date because they need to have at least six months before expiry on them in order to be able to travel abroad,” Mr Gove said. “I’m sure there will be bumpy moments but we are there in order to try to do everything we can to smooth the path.”
The UK left the EU almost a year ago, but remained within the bloc's economic coverage during a transition period that ends at midnight Brussels time or 11pm in London, on December 31.
Businesses across the UK have spent this week analysing the implications of the 1,240-page deal agreed by the EU and the UK on Christmas Eve, just a week before the deadline. The agreement will ensure Britain and the 27-nation bloc can continue to trade without tariffs or quotas, in turn protecting about £660 billion ($891bn) in annual trade between the two sides.
On Monday, ambassadors from the 27 EU nations gave their unanimous approval to the deal, while the next stage of the process will see Britain's Parliament vote on the deal on Wednesday.
Despite the deal, the end of Britain’s membership of the EU’s single market and customs union will still cause inconvenience and new expenses for both individuals and businesses, from the need for tourists to have health insurance to the millions of new customs declarations companies will have to fill out.
Mr Gove said “the overwhelming majority” of British businesses were prepared for the end of the Brexit transition period, however that did not mean there won’t be challenges.
“The nature of our new relationship with the EU – outside the single market and customs union – means that there are practical and procedural changes that businesses and citizens need to get ready for,” he said.
“We know that there will be some disruption as we adjust to new ways of doing business with the EU, so it is vital to take all the necessary action now.”
The expected “bumpy” exit from the EU comes days after France briefly closed its border with Britain because of the highly transmissible new variant of the coronavirus sweeping across the UK. The move left thousands of trucks stuck in traffic jams or parked at a disused airfield near the English Channel port of Dover for days, while supermarkets warned that some goods, including fresh produce, would run short.
The Brexit deal has also caused concern for the UK’s financial services sector, as the agreement focuses on trade in goods.
UK finance minister Rishi Sunak tried to allay fears over the weekend, telling the City of London it would be "doing a few things a bit differently" as it looks to attract new companies from across the globe to list in London.
Meanwhile, shadow cabinet office minister Rachel Reeves said the government should take responsibility for the “bumpy moments” Mr Gove was warning of because it struck a deal “so close to the wire”.
“The government is treating its own incompetence as inevitable,” she said.