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Essential actions businesses should take now

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Delaying action is a risk to your business

As the political negotiations continue many businesses are delaying Brexit readiness until everything is sorted out.

However, the problem with this 'wait and see' approach is that some business processes will change at the end of March regardless of Brexit – and other issues demand immediate attention well before the 29 March.

The business risks from not being prepared far outweigh the management time and costs from taking action now.

Read our two-minute guide to help make sure your business is prepared given the latest developments on Brexit.

Cut through the jargon and information overload to identify the actions you need to act on immediately:

  1. What your business needs to do now
  2. Five steps to prepare
  3. Brexit scenarios to consider


1. What your business needs to do now

Exporters and importers must prepare for new trading processes

Familiarise yourself with a range of changes to trade processes taking place after 29 March in the event of a 'no-deal' outcome. Ensure your business is fully prepared.

Access HMRC advice and training grants to help your staff complete the required customs declarations and buy new software – or alternatively, contract with a customs agent to submit customs documentation on your behalf.  HMRC have identified 145,000 VAT-registered UK businesses who only trade with the EU, who will all have to complete customs paperwork for the first time. Note that you need to apply for training and software grants soon – the scheme closes on 5 April or sooner, if the £2 million budget is exhausted. 

Apply for an Economic Operator Registration and Identification (EORI) number so you can continue to trade with the EU if there’s no deal.

Find out what WTO trade tariffs would apply under a no-deal scenario.

Speak to your freight forwarders now to secure future shipment slots. As many companies have increased production and are stockpiling in continental European warehouses, there is much greater demand for slots than usual at present.

Sign up for the new Transitional Simplified Procedures (TSP) from 7 February, designed to make importing easier for the initial period after the UK leaves the EU should there be no deal.

Once registered, you’ll be able to transport your goods into the UK without having to make a full customs declaration at the border, and can postpone paying your import duties. Note that TSP will only operate at English roll-on roll-off ports such as Dover and the Channel Tunnel.

Find out what actions you need to take to use UK VAT IT systems. If the UK leaves the EU without a deal you will no longer be able to use certain EU VAT IT systems.

Read full UK Government’s guidance for importing and exporting under a no deal scenario

All EU citizens must register under the EU Settlement Scheme by June 2021

The Scheme fully opens for registration from late March. You should now be communicating with any affected staff to understand their plans and be able to support them through this process.

The UK Government has now waived the £65 registration fee for applications after April.

Access further advice in the Employer Toolkit

Signpost affected employees to advice and information from the UK Government and the Citizens Advice Scotland

Carry out cash flow projections to help stress-test your business

Under a 'no-deal' outcome, both importers and exporters would be liable for WTO tariffs.

Customs delays, new customs documentation as well as product certification would also add cost.

Currency fluctuations will directly affect importers as well as exporters – and higher costs are likely to be passed to supply chain companies who do not import or export themselves.

How would these extra costs affect your cash flow and contracts? Do you need to access additional short-term working capital to cover increased costs and inventory? How much added cost might there be owing to delays at ports?

Speak to your bank to access additional working capital or discuss ways to manage any currency risk (for example, by using forward foreign exchange contracts). Alternatively, discuss other finance options with our expert advisers

Ensure you continue to comply with data protection law in the event of ‘no deal’

For UK businesses that operate across the EU or exchange personal data with partners in the EEA, there may be changes that need to be made ahead of the UK leaving the EU to ensure continued compliance. Businesses should take early action well before 29 March as changes may take some time to implement.

Read the UK Government guide on ‘Using personal data after Brexit’

Read the guide 'Data protection if there's no Brexit deal’ on ico.gov

Businesses can also use the ICO’s tool for assessing whether they can rely on implementing standard contractual clauses (SCCs) for transfers from the European Economic Area (EEA) to the UK.

If a withdrawal deal is agreed, businesses will see no immediate change in their day-to-day obligations and personal data will be able to flow freely between the UK and EU during the transition period. The UK Government then intends to agree an adequacy decision with the EU, allowing the free flow of data following Brexit.

Take steps to avoid any disruption in business travel after Brexit

In the event of a no deal outcome, all UK passports must be valid for at least six months before arriving in the EU27.

If you plan to drive in the EU you may need to get an International Driving Permit

The EU and UK Government have given assurances that any air travel disruption should be minimised but also recommend you take out travel insurance.

Review and update your Brexit plan as details become clearer

As the political process develops we’ll update the latest information and advice in our self-assessment tool and elsewhere on this site.

It’s important you keep checking back since a lot is changing and will continue to change.

The British Chambers of Commerce risk register also gives a useful overview of the extent to which key uncertainties have been resolved.


2. Five steps to prepare

Plan for the worst, hope for the best

To safeguard your business our advice now is to plan on the basis that the UK leaves the EU without a deal on 29 March.

Whether or not you personally believe this is the most likely outcome, this is the prudent approach for your business. (Or if you want to take a more sophisticated approach, consider three different scenarios: no deal, a withdrawal deal and a delayed Brexit).

Focus on the specific issues for your business using our self-assessment tool

Our self-assessment tool will help you identify your potential exposure to Brexit implications. Focusing on the priority issues will form the basis of your Brexit plan.

Develop a plan of action

Don’t assume that you can’t plan for Brexit since events are outwith your control: there are many actions you can take either directly or by influencing others.

A clear plan gives direction and confidence, a ‘map’ to guide your business to its destination. Give responsibility to a senior member of staff or team to develop and execute your plan.

Take action

You should identify both the immediate actions to take just now as well as the contingency actions to take when other details become clearer.

Browse our list of resources to find the support on offer to all businesses in Scotland.

Attend one of the many Brexit events across Scotland to get expert advice.

Find information, advice and support around workforce, trade, investment and IP issues.

Get advice from your bank, lawyer, accountant, trade body or local Chamber of Commerce

Ask us a question if you can’t find the answers anywhere else.

Keep your plan up to date

Sign up for UK Government e-mail alerts providing advice and information to businesses. These are currently being updated on a daily basis.


3. Brexit scenarios to consider

Still think Brexit won’t affect your business? Consider these scenarios:

"I don’t export or import"

If your suppliers are exporters or importers they may pass on higher costs to you (53% of the UK’s goods are imported).

Find out what tariffs are likely to apply under a 'no-deal' scenario for the product categories relevant to your business.

Domestic competition within the UK may increase, making it harder to do business.

"I don’t employ any EU staff"

If you want to recruit in the future, the pool of labour may be smaller and wages may rise as a result.

"I have secure contracts and customers"

Your customers and suppliers may be re-thinking their supply chains given the significant changes taking place, especially in a 'no-deal' scenario. Speak to them now to find out if they are planning any changes.

Consumer and business confidence may suffer, especially if the UK leaves the EU without a withdrawal agreement. This will likely affect demand for your products and services.

"Regulations won’t change for my sector"

While the UK Withdrawal Act will transpose EU regulations into UK law if a deal is agreed, it’s possible that under a 'no deal' scenario UK regulations may cease to be recognised by the EU.

This could affect issues such as the assessment and certification of products/services as well as packaging and labelling. The issues differ from sector to sector, so check the UK Government guidance or with your trade body.

Further guidance in our resources section

Got a Brexit planning question?

Get in touch with our export advisers for full details of how we can help your business grow in EU markets and beyond.