The United Kingdom is urging businesses to step up preparations for an exit from the European Union without a trade deal when transitional arrangements end, telling them in a campaign that “time is running out”.
Talks between the UK and EU on a trade deal ended in recrimination last week, with both sides saying the other needed to compromise.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday there was no point in continuing discussions and it was now time to prepare for an exit without a trade deal.
Senior minister Michael Gove, however, said on Sunday the door was still ajar for talks to continue.
Johnson and Gove will hold a call with business leaders this week, the government said, while 200,000 traders will receive a letter setting out new customs and tax rules.
“Make no mistake, there are changes coming in just 75 days and time is running out for businesses to act,” Gove said in a statement.
“It is on all of us to put in the work now so that we can embrace the new opportunities available to an independent trading nation with control of its own borders, territorial waters and laws.”
The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) said the government was responsible for any lack of preparation on the part of business.
“Facing the triple threat of a resurgent coronavirus, tightening restrictions and a disorderly end to the transition period, it is little wonder businesses are struggling to prepare,” BCC director-general Adam Marshall said.
“Many firms will be tired of posturing, cliff edges and deadlines, while others are still grappling with fundamental challenges as a result of the pandemic.”
He said a deal was still possible. “Much may change for business at year-end, but a deal would give firms more clarity so that they can plan and adjust.”
More than 70 British business groups representing more than seven million workers on Sunday urged politicians to get back to the negotiating table and strike a deal.
“With compromise and tenacity, a deal can be done. Businesses call on leaders on both sides to find a route through,” they said.
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier had been due in London for talks with his British counterpart David Frost this week. Instead, they will now speak by telephone on Monday to discuss the structure of future talks, Barnier’s spokesman said.
Issues still to be resolved include fair competition rules, dispute resolution and fisheries.
Gove said on Sunday that the bloc had squandered some of the progress that had been made because it had not been willing to intensify talks or produce detailed legal texts.
“We hope that the EU will change their position; we’re certainly not saying if they do change their position that we can’t talk to them,” he said.
Asked by Sky News if Barnier should come to London, Gove said the ball was “in his court”.
EU diplomats and officials cast Johnson’s move as little more than rhetoric, portraying it as a frantic bid to secure concessions before a last-minute deal was done, and European leaders have asked Barnier to continue talks.
‘A deal, but not at any price’
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said compromises on both sides would be needed. French President Emmanuel Macron said the UK needed a Brexit deal more than the 27-nation EU, which remained united.
“We are ready for a deal, but not at any price,” Macron said.
A “no deal” finale to the UK’s five-year Brexit crisis would disrupt the operations of manufacturers, retailers, farmers and nearly every other sector – just as the economic hit from the coronavirus pandemic worsens.
“It is not my preferred destination,” Gove said in an opinion piece in the Sunday Times.
“But if the choice is between arrangements that tie our hands indefinitely, or where we can shape our own future, then that’s no choice at all. And leaving on Australian terms is an outcome for which we are increasingly well prepared.”
Critics have said that an “Australian-style” deal is simply code for no deal at all with the UK’s largest export market.