Over the course of the past few months, concern about a potential no-deal Brexit has intensified. While both the EU and the UK insist that negotiations are continuous and emphasise their commitment to reaching an agreement by the upcoming October deadline, the European Commission has been preparing for the event of the UK leaving the block without a withdrawal agreement in March 2019.
On a similar note, the UK government had announced in July that it would release a number of documents for citizens and businesses, advising them on how to prepare for the possibility of a no-deal Brexit. It should be noted that, according to a survey by the Institute of Directors, fewer than one third of company bosses have contingency plans for Brexit, while a survey of NHS trusts also revealed that the majority of UK hospitals have yet to make plans for a no-deal Brexit.
Upon release of the first batch of these so-called technical notices on Thursday, 22 August – the remaining documents are expected to be published by the end of September – Brexit Secretary, Dominic Raab, stated that these documents were a “practical and proportionate” approach, and insisted that there were no plans to deploy the military to secure food and medicine supplies for the event of a no-deal. He did mention, however, that they will be working with the industry around stockpiling medicines for the worst-case scenario.
The first batch of the technical notices covered 25 areas, including health, medicines regulation, trade, banking and insurance, energy, farm payments, university research, and tobacco regulation. The documents contain advice and information about the possible outcomes of a no-deal Brexit, but they also raise explicit concerns related to higher costs and red tape for businesses. For instance, for businesses trading with the EU, traders would have to consider engaging a customs broker to submit import declaration or acquiring the appropriate software and authorisations from tax authorities, which would come at a cost. Individuals would also be affected with cost of card payments to EU increasing and transactions no longer being covered by rules that prevent businesses from placing surcharges on transactions.
Concerning the regulation on medicines, the notices say that the UK continues to recognise drugs and medical devices approved by the EU, but that in the case of a no-deal UK exit, information sharing on databases on medicine safety will cease. Similarly, EU laws on tobacco regulation are also expected to cease if no deal is reached, but it is mentioned that the UK law would replicate them with minor amendments. Nevertheless, if that is the case, the UK would even need to replace all current packaging of tobacco products, as the copyright for the current picture library is owned by the European Commission.
On the question of Northern Ireland, according to Dominic Raab, a no-deal scenario raises “significant challenges on trade with Northern Ireland”, but more information on that issue would be provided in due course, as it is a “unique and highly sensitive context”.
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